Stop Differentiating Between Program and Administrative Support

July 15, 2019

Siegel_family_endowment_workforceAs the director of special projects at Siegel Family Endowment, I spend a lot of time talking to folks in the philanthropic sector about their approaches to funding. It's an opportunity to get in the weeds with others about their strategic priorities and to build an understanding of innovation and best practices in the field.

And for years now, I've heard funder after funder draw the same false distinction between supporting an organization's administrative costs and its program costs.

There's one thing they're ignoring when they make this kind of distinction: You can't have one without the other.

If there's a single prerequisite for running an effective program, it's having the right administrative structures in place to do so. HR, compliance, reporting, fundraising, finance, IT —  they're all critical factors in determining whether a program ultimately succeeds or fails.

Designating funding as programmatic merely forces nonprofits to be cheap, not prudent. With the majority of funding supporting programmatic work instead of the infrastructure needed to make such work possible, nonprofits are often forced to skimp on the very things that can ensure the efficacy and sustainability of their work.

Unfortunately, there's no magic formula that funders can use when deciding how their grants should be allocated. If they want to be nimble and responsive, they need, instead, to be clear in their expectations and receptive to an organization's changing needs. Big administrative needs (like new software purchases or upgrading office space) are unlikely to be an annual expense,  but when they are needed, the impact on an organization's budget — and programmatic work — tends to be outsized.

My big recommendation for funders? Start by asking grantees where they have had to cut corners. An organization's long-term success is a function of the health of the infrastructure that makes its work possible in the first place, and we as funders owe it to our grantees to cultivate a relationship with them that’s honest, open, and bi-directional.

Grantmakers have an opportunity in 2019 to shift their thinking on how responsible, responsive funding works. Let's help our grantees be as effective as they can be by investing in every aspect of their work and not just cherry-picking the things that appeal to us.

Headshot_jessica_johansen_siegel_familyJessica Johansen is director of special projects at Siegel Family Endowment. A version of this post originally appeared on the SFE website.

'College Means Hope': A Path Forward for the Justice-Involved

July 12, 2019

Michelson_20MM_smart_justice"Former gang members make incredible students. The same skills that made me a good drug-dealer — resiliency, hustle, determination — I now use on campus to succeed in school," Jesse Fernandez tells the audience attending our panel discussion at this year's Gang Prevention and Intervention Conference in Long Beach.

I was on stage with Jesse as co-moderator for the first education-focused panel in the conference's history. (The Michelson 20MM Foundation convened the panel, tapping Jesse, Taffany Lim of California State University, Los Angeles, and Brittany Morton of Homeboy Industries to share their experiences.) Only 25, he has come a long way from the gang life he once knew. Today, he interns for Homeboy Industries, helping other students on their path to college, has finished an associate's program in Los Angeles, and has studied abroad at Oxford University. He may not look like a typical college student, but he speaks with the certainty and eloquence of someone who has been in school for years.

"College means hope. It means understanding your identity. For me, it was learning about my indigenous heritage, what it means to be Chicano, and how my community has been affected by violence and loss."

I first met Jesse over a lunch of chilaquiles (with salsa verde) and agua fresca (Angela's Green Potion is a "do not miss") at Homegirl Café, an L.A. staple since the 1990s. The café is run by former gang members and offers a safe space for people coming out of prison, providing many of them with their first job, creating a pipeline to sustainable employment. It's so popular that Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and other politicians on the national stage have stopped in for a bite while in town.

Jesse is one of thousands of justice-involved students attending college in California. The exact number is unknown, as public colleges in the state do not require the disclosure of a criminal history. Many students choose to self-identify in order to take advantage of resources specific to the justice-involved population. Others, says Morton, academic program coordinator for Homeboy, are still trying to overcome the perceived "stigma" of having been incarcerated.

"Imagine getting released from prison after twenty-plus years on the inside, and you've never used a computer before. Then you get to campus, and every form, assignment, and application is online. It's intimidating for people and there is a lot of shame connected to these experiences."

It's estimated that 53 percent of formerly incarcerated people have a high school diploma or GED, yet fewer than 5 percent have completed college (Vera Institute of Justice). Persistence in postsecondary education is fraught with challenges, especially for non-traditional students. The typical formerly incarcerated person has served more than two years in prison, has at least one minor child, and is over the age of 30. In the year after their release, they earn around $9,000 in wages. A year of community college in California costs around $10,000, putting postsecondary opportunities squarely out of reach for most people who have served time.

Making a Difference

That's where peer-led organizations like Homeboy Industries, Project Rebound, and Underground Scholars come into play. All three not only provide a physical space and financial resources to help justice-involved students graduate, they also cultivate a sense of belonging and deserving that stretches far beyond campus.

"The first thing people think when they hear about college opportunities for 'felons' is, why?" says Morton. "Why waste your resources on people who have messed up time and time again. Why focus on college when people with a criminal record can't even find jobs or stable housing. Why? My response is always, why not? Why not give people who have been let down by our education system a first chance at success? Why not help them become leaders, change-makers, peer mentors. Why not give them a sense of hope that they can strive higher and make an impact."

What's more, the programs have proven to be successful — for students, colleges, and even for taxpayers. Initial outcomes data demonstrates that programs for justice-involved students help keep students enrolled, out of incarceration, and on a path to economic stability. They also save money. For every $1 invested in correctional education, there is a resulting $4 to $5 return in avoided costs from reduced recidivism and increased employment.

While California has led the country in providing resources to justice-involved students, we still have a long way to go. Recent legislative efforts in Sacramento have helped catalyze a new push for expanded postsecondary opportunities. If enacted by the state legislature, the Smart Justice Student Fund would provide an additional $25 million to community colleges in support of justice-involved students both on campus and in prison.

This winter, Jesse Fernandez will be continuing his education at the University of California, Berkeley, where he hopes to major in Chicano Studies. He says he has already connected with other students on campus who were formerly incarcerated — and that has made it "easier to imagine the day-to-day of being a full-time college student at a place like Berkeley."

In a few years, Jesse will be part of a new generation of justice-impacted college students who strive to become leaders and visionaries in the fight for criminal justice reform in the United States. The first step is helping the public understand that people who are incarcerated deserve opportunities to better themselves above and beyond the limitations and barriers our systems have placed on them.

Allison_berger_PhilanTopicAllison Berger is program officer for the Michelson 20MM Foundation's Smart Justice program.

[Review] The Business of Changing the World: How Billionaires, Tech Disrupters, and Social Entrepreneurs Are Transforming the Global Aid Industry

July 10, 2019

Gone are the days when major donor governments and multilateral agencies poured large sums into international development projects that were evaluated mainly by the level of the donors' generosity. As Raj Kumar explains in The Business of Changing the World: How Billionaires, Tech Disrupters, and Social Entrepreneurs Are Transforming the Global Aid Industry, the foreign aid industry, in the United States and elsewhere, is undergoing a huge transformation: once dominated by a handful of players, the sector is being reinvented as a dynamic marketplace hungry for cost-efficient, evidence-based solutions.

Tbcw-book-coverAs the co-founder of Devex, a social enterprise and media platform for the global development community, Kumar has a unique perspective on the emerging trends, key players, and new frameworks and philosophies that are shaping the development sector. And as he sees it, the sector is undergoing three fundamental changes: first, an opening up to diverse participants; second, a shift from a wholesale to a retail model of aid; and third, a growing focus on results-oriented, evidence-based strategies.

According to Kumar, the diversification of participants and, consequently, of strategies, both characterizes and is contributing to the growing success of this new era of aid. Prior to the twenty-first century, the sector was dominated by large agencies such as USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) and the World Bank functioning as an oligopsony in which aid strategies were relatively homogeneous and any latitude to innovate was limited. Thanks in part to the wealth accumulated by tech billionaires such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, however, that is changing and the sector today operates and is informed by a much broader range of perspectives.

One result of the influx of tech dollars and expertise into the sector has been a demand for results, often in the form of a measurable return on those investments. But despite the broader diversity of approaches, failure is still part and parcel of the field, and Kumar offers some insights into why. An example he cites repeatedly is Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Initiative, which never fully delivered on its thesis that providing laptops to children in the developing world would go a long way to closing education gaps. As Kumar notes, past evaluations of the program have found that laptops did not do much to improve children's learning — in part because the initiative failed to adequately train teachers or develop curricula tailored to computer-based learning — and he uses the example to highlight the importance of pilot-testing projects to determine their efficacy before implementing them at scale.

Indeed, while veteran development hands may commend Negroponte for his ambition and good intentions, a new generation of development professionals is more interested in setting goals by which a project's success (or failure) can be measured and conducting rigorous evaluation to determine whether it meets those goals. In a resource-constrained world, Kumar argues, such an approach is the best way for aid groups and their funders to avoid the opportunity costs of a failed project and harness their limited funds for maximum impact.

Another important change in the sector is the shift away from the traditional decision-making model in which decisions were made by well-compensated individuals embedded in institutions at a significant remove from the people in need of help. In the new world of aid, writes Kumar, donors and aid experts have to let go of the mindset that they know best, step back, and listen to the intended beneficiaries about how that aid should be put to use. "Only by asking...questions, listening carefully, watching how people actually behave and react in the real world, and then designing programs to address those realities," he writes, "will we be able to get the kind of results we want."

That also means that aid programs need to incorporate behavioral science- and human psychology-based approaches to ensure that the funded intervention will be both widely adopted and effective. In support of his argument, Kumar cites the example of an insecticide-treated mosquito net distribution effort. While a standard cost-benefit analysis most likely would conclude that such nets are a reasonable and cost-effective intervention, aid groups that took the time to interview the intended beneficiaries soon learned that mosquito nets distributed through previous campaigns were hardly ever used because they are too hot to sleep under and are not easy to set up. By doing a better job of focusing on "people, not widgets," aid groups stand a much better chance of ensuring that projects are executed efficiently and goals are met.

In addition to these broad trends and themes, Kumar looks at the ways in which the emerging aid industry has embraced a more diverse cast of players — including so-called social enterprises, which he defines as businesses "established with the sole purpose of meeting an important social need [that create] shared value for all those involved — the producers, the organization, customers, and the broader society." From Hello Tractor, an app modeled on Uber that connects Nigerian farmers who are not fully utilizing their tractors to farmers in need of a tractor, to microfinance platform Kiva, Kumar illustrates how social entrepreneurs are transforming the aid sector with technology and, crucially, a behavioral-science mindset, creating solutions that address the specific needs of a specific target population in real time.

While it's perhaps unrealistic to expect all businesses to operate with the sole intention of meeting a social need, Kumar argues that such enterprises could pave the way for more businesses to adopt the idea of shared value, creating what the World Economic Forum has called a "fourth sector." One way for corporations to become more socially responsible is to ignore the notion that people at the "bottom of the pyramid" (a phrase coined by C.K. Prahalad in his 2004 book The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid) can never function as a market. Instead, companies need to embrace the idea that the vast number of people who fall into that category are more than enough to create aggregate demand — and a profit — for any business and create products and services specifically for the BoP.

Kumar also examines the emergence of "retail" aid, as seen in the growing popularity of crowdfunding sites like Kiva and direct cash transfers, and notes that "frictionless" digital technologies are putting increasing pressure on "wholesale" models of aid to incorporate local input, monitor results continually, make course corrections as needed, and ensure that projects are self-sustaining over time. Such changes go hand-in-hand with "a new ethos" of what Kumar calls "open source aid" — organizational cultures that embrace the humility required to share results (including failures), openly and in the spirit of collective learning.

Despite the credit he gives social entrepreneurs and businesses for embracing market solutions, Kumar recognizes that systemic problems do not always lend themselves to a quick market or technological fix. One organization that seems to understand that is Teach for All, a global network of independent, locally led and governed partner organizations that has trained more than sixty-five hundred individuals to serve as educators in their communities. As he explains, if Teach for All's progress in transforming local educational systems has been slower and less quantifiable than might be the case with a more disruptive Silicon Valley solution, its approach is better suited to the "complex, emotionally fraught, politicized [education] system" in most countries. In other words, where market-based solutions may succeed in reducing complexity, they often fail to address many of the fundamental issues responsible for a system's underperformance.

Like education, extreme poverty is a challenge far too complex to be solved by a simple market-based solution. Today, seven hundred and forty-six million people around the world live in extreme poverty (defined as living on less than $2 a day), and, from conflict situations to "extractive institutions," Kumar points to the many systemic factors perpetuating the problem. So, if market-based solutions are unlikely to solve the problem, what will? Kumar thinks the answer lies in embracing a results-based approach to aid delivery, including the collection of real-time data that enables aid groups to track and disseminate the successes (and failures) of their interventions and drive awareness of and support to those deserving of more attention; and demanding that billionaire donors be held accountable for the support they provide. Good intentions and "giving pledges" are not enough in the twenty-first century, he writes; instead, we must do everything in our power to ensure that the resources provided by billionaire philanthropists produce real, meaningful results.

Kumar notes that even if foreign aid succeeded in eradicating extreme poverty in a given country, in most cases it would still leave 3 percent of that country's population living below the poverty line. While some readers might find this to be an oddly pessimistic note on which to end the book (coming as it does on the book's second-to-last page), it's more a case of Kumar wanting to highlight the urgent need for efficiency and effectiveness in aid delivery. Simply put, we cannot afford to waste resources on "best" guesses, insufficiently evaluated initiatives, and serial failures. The aid community, donors as well as those on the front lines, must listen to and engage with those they seek to serve so as to better understand the problem, think outside the box, and harness the power of data to produce desperately needed results. As Kumar reminds us, it is not enough to do good; it needs to be done well.

Avi Bond is a Knowledge Services intern at Candid.

 

An Engaged Board Is a Fundraising Machine 

July 03, 2019

Table-clipart-board-director-11Is your board pulling its weight in terms of fundraising? An active, engaged board can be a huge difference-maker for a nonprofit. We choose board members, after all, for their skills, connections, and potential to boost fundraising revenue — and they usually will, as long as we make an effort to encourage them to put those skills and connections to work.

Here are a few tips to help you do that:

Boost your board's fundraising capacity. You selected your board members for their knowledge, acumen, and abilities, but you still need to familiarize them with your brand, help them engage with your team, and make sure they're aware of your organizational needs and fundraising plans. The best way to do that is by boosting their engagement with staff and distributing tasks based on their specific interests and abilities.

Get and stay connected. If you're only seeing your board members during board meetings, you are missing out on much of what they have to offer. Be sure to invite board members to any community events you hold or workshops you host. An invitation to tour your facility or join you for an on-site visit where they can meet your volunteers and clients also is a good idea. Not only will it help them feel more connected to the organization, it will give them opportunities to network in the community as well as material for stories they can share in support of the organization.

While not every member of your board will be willing or able to take advantage of every invitation, many will, and doing so will help strengthen their rapport with each other and your work. Updating them on a regular basis about your work, your successes, and your ongoing funding needs also will help them feel like they are connected and an integral part of the overall effort.

Not everyone wants to ask for funds. You're likely to discover that some board members are far better at asking for donations or gifts on your behalf than others. Not everyone on your board has the same skill set (that's a good thing), and board members who are reluctant to solicit others for donations or gifts (whatever their reason) should be able to contribute in other ways. Remember the classic "Cycle of Fundraising." Being able to identify and cultivate potential patrons and supporters, thank current donors, and involve all your donors more deeply in your work are all key to successful board fundraising.

Stewardship improves your bottom line. If you're already bringing in plenty of funds but don't seem able to effectively support all the initiatives you've launched or dream about, the problem might lie in your inability to retain donors over time. One or more board members who focus on stewardship and helping donors feel connected to your organizational outcomes can go a long way to ensuring your organization’s sustainability without you needing to raise additional dollars from new donors in a neverending cycle. Both sides of the equation — effective fundraising and donor stewardship — ultimately drive your organization's ability to fulfill its mission.

Stock your board with experts. In the twenty-first century, you need to embrace and model diversity by putting people on the board of different ages, from different backgrounds (professional and personal), and with different expertise. I can't overstate how important this is to board fundraising, as it will give your organization more skills, connections, and perspectives to leverage and draw on. Chances are pretty good that the three lawyers you were considering for the board all share the same connections, while the advertising pro probably has a completely different group of colleagues and acquaintances to draw on when it comes to fundraising and networking.

Make it easy. If you know you're going to need your board's help on a specific campaign or for a specific event, you should let them know well in advance. If asking for board assistance is left to the last minute, your board members are unlikely to have enough time to help. (They're busy people, which is why they're on your board.) If your "ask" is tied to a specific need, project, or time of year, write up the main talking points for board members to refer to when they are talking with potential donors or supporters. You can also pre-draft an email that they can personalize to their own liking but that includes everything about your organization you'd like them to share with their networks. Lastly, images of the people and community you serve, figures and statistics that underscore your good work, and other talking points will make it easier for your board members to articulate exactly what its your organization does and why it's so important.

Your board plays — or should play — a critical role in your organization’s fundraising success. If it doesn't, get them engaged and actively working for you now. You’ll see a difference in your organization's capacity to serve its target population almost immediately. Good luck!

Headshot_jeb_bannerJeb Banner is the founder and CEO of Boardable, a nonprofit board management software provider, as well as two nonprofits, The Speak Easy and Musical Family Tree. He also serves as a board member of United Way of Central Indiana and ProAct Indy.

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (June 2018)

July 01, 2019

Is it us, or does chronological time seem to be accelerating? Before the first half of 2019 becomes a distant memory, take a few minutes to check out some of the most popular posts on the blog in June. And remember: You're not getting older, you're gaining wisdom.

Interested in contributing to PND or PhilanTopic? We'd love to hear from you. Drop us a note at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Three Shifts Philanthropy Needs to Make to Better Design and Evaluate Social Change

June 28, 2019

Chalk-board-paradigm-shiftGood strategy-making and evaluation sit at the heart of philanthropy. Yet as a sector, we continue to struggle with how to design strategies, how to understand our impact, and how to use that understanding to drive stronger strategies. While we've made progress in using theories of change, logic models, indicators, and various types of evaluations in our work, we are often still stuck in more traditional, linear paradigms of thinking that do not lend themselves to the complex, ever-changing contexts in which we work.

I believe there are three key shifts that philanthropy needs to make to more fully embrace a complexity-friendly approach to designing and evaluating social change:

From...   To....
Projects Systems
Results Hypotheses
Planning Learning

From Projects to Systems: Most foundation staff tend to think of their work in terms of programs, projects, or even specific grants. There is value in opening up the aperture and examining the whole system, with all its interconnected components.

At the Democracy Fund, we created elaborate "systems maps" to explore the connections and dynamics that characterize the systems we seek to influence and created strategies that utilize specific "leverage points" in the system. While evaluating the impact of our strategies, we look not only at indicators of program impact but also at a set of "system impact indicators" that track system-level variables.

For instance, while our Elections program tracks how many jurisdictions are adopting a particular tool (program impact), it also tracks how voter confidence in elections is shifting overall (system impact). The point is not to attribute causality, but rather to situate and understand our impact in the broader context of how systemic variables are moving. (To learn more about taking a systems and complexity approach to evaluation, check out Evaluating Complexity.)

From Results to Hypotheses: While results matter greatly, we often spend inordinate time and effort on them and not enough on articulating and clarifying the hypotheses and assumptions that undergird our thinking.

In my previous role as a philanthropy consultant, I had a client who set a target of 88 percent high school graduation as the key result they wanted to see. A lot of deliberation and negotiation had gone into that number. There was just one glitch — almost all their programming focused on third-grade reading. While there could be a hypothesis that connects third-grade reading to high school graduation, the links are tenuous, at best.

The point here is to think through exactly how difficult are the challenges we are tackling, and what kinds of efforts and resources are needed to achieve the results we want. Making the hypothesis and assumptions explicit also sets us up well to test them. (A helpful resource on taking a hypothesis-based approach is this report on Evaluating Ecosystems Investments.)

From Planning to Learning: Most of us that came to philanthropy in the last two or three decades were indoctrinated into a traditional form of "strategic planning" that takes several months to complete and involves a process that proceeds from vision and mission to goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics. I believe that is a luxury we can no longer afford.

In a rapidly evolving context, the challenge is more about creating an adaptable and flexible plan that can keep up with the times, complemented by a robust learning agenda. A learning agenda should have a few components — a set of questions (about context, implementation, results) that must be answered, a plan for actually collecting the information through monitoring, research, and evaluation, and structures and processes for using the information to create meaning and drive decisions.

Accountability around the last component is critical, as without it what is learned often sits on a shelf. At the Democracy Fund, in addition to internal learning processes, each program team also goes in front of the board for a "learning conversation" roughly every twelve to eighteen months to recap lessons learned and offer mid-course corrections. Other foundations have instituted a variety of learning processes as well (such as those outlined in this report on Learning in Philanthropy).

Underneath each of these shifts is a humble and honest reminder that language matters in all of this. While "goals" and "targets" convey a sense of direct control, "aspirations" and "informed predictions" convey a more thoughtful, flexible direction. Even small changes like this to how we think about our work will influence how we move forward as a sector.

Philanthropy is driven by meaning that informs action. At a time when philanthropy is being criticized on various fronts, it is imperative that we seriously examine how we construct meaning — and do so in a way that strengthens our legitimacy. The three shifts outlined above are subtle yet powerful ways for philanthropy to challenge itself.

Headshot_Srikanth GopalSrikanth Gopal guides overall strategy and the programmatic portfolio at the Democracy Fund, where he also develops learning systems to ensure that the fund is impactful in its work. This post originally appeared on Candid's GrantCraft blog.

Collaboration Versus Competition: Funders Should Shift Their Giving Models to Better Support Families

June 25, 2019

Familia_adelantePicture this: In the New York City borough of the Bronx, Marlena and Jose Reyes had worked hard to provide for their family of four, often getting up before the sun rose to feed and get their children off to school before heading out to work. But their family hit hard times when Jose was injured on the job. The medical bills quickly added up, and, lacking disability coverage, he began to worry his family wouldn't be able to make ends meet. Soon, the family fell into financial crisis, and the threat of eviction became a very real and frightening possibility.

Fortunately, Marlena learned about a service provider collaborative in the community called Familia Adelante that could help.

Stories like those of the Reyeses are common inside the walls of Familia Adelante, which connects families with a range of services, from health care to educational support to job training, all in a single location.

Comprised of three organizations — Mercy Center, the Fiver Children's Foundation, and the Qualitas of Life Foundation —as well as Tanya Valle, a mindfulness practitioner, Familia Adelante helps low-income families access services based on goals they set with the help of a coach. Each of the three agencies focuses on its area of expertise, and together they meet regularly to evaluate families' progress. In the situation in which the Reyes family found itself, Familia Adelante was able to help the Reyeses prioritize their short-term needs, establish a plan to get out of debt, and, because the organization has access to a full range of basic-need services, keep their home and maintain family stability.

Unfortunately, for many families and service providers, the reality is much different. Rather than collaborating, many nonprofits compete fiercely with other nonprofits for resources. With a limited amount of charitable dollars available, nonprofits tend to view each other as competitors rather than as allies working toward a common goal. It's a model that hurts nonprofits — and the people they are trying to serve.

What if there were a better strategy? What if there were a way to fund nonprofits that encouraged both efficiency and collaboration? It's a popular topic of conversation in philanthropy these days, and yet it's a model that has not been fully embraced.

The Case for Collaboration

In our work, we've seen how the competition for limited resources has resulted in a fragmented approach to service provision that undermines the value of those services for families in need. Too often, families are forced to start from scratch in their efforts to access services, filling out the same form multiple times for multiple agencies, then receiving a separate set of recommendations from each of those agencies. What's more, different agencies often will offer differing and/or conflicting advice. Families become overwhelmed. Parents become frustrated, unable to prioritize and plan their next steps. Children feel the lack of stability and bear the brunt of its effects. It's also difficult for busy family members to build solid, trusting relationships with representatives from multiple agencies.

In other words, it's a model that is broken. But there is some good news.

All of these problems are fixable, and the solution starts with how we approach and fund service provision.

To better meet the needs of working low-income families in New Jersey and the Bronx, the Pascale Sykes Foundation developed something called the Whole Family Approach, a collaborative, family-led approach to service provision that provides family members, children as well as adults, with the tools they need to set their own individual and family goals, establish a plan to reach those goals, and realize their dreams.

The Whole Family Approach

Pascale Sykes works with its grantee organizations to implement the approach through a collaborative model in which multiple agencies join together to provide a full spectrum of coordinated, complementary services designed to meet families' needs. Instead of funding a group of standalone agencies that operate siloed off from other nonprofits, we award funding to nonprofits on the basis of their willingness to work with others to promote family economic stability, adult and child well-being, healthy relationships, and family engagement with their communities.

To maximize their effectiveness, nonprofits and agencies that have bought into the Whole Family Approach capture and share information about their clients' goals, progress, and life changes in a centralized database, enabling partner agencies to see families as holistic entities with their own unique challenges, vulnerabilities, and strengths. Instead of operating individually, agencies participating in a collaborative begin to see other nonprofits in the collaboration not as competitors but as teammates they can lean on to organize priorities, share resources, and advance their mutual goals and objectives.

For example, Familia Adelante takes a "no wrong door" approach to service provision: if someone visits Mercy Center with a question about its services, that person will also learn what the Fiver Children's Foundation and other members of the collaborative have to offer. Families who sign up are assigned a life coach who can connect them with services to help them reach their short- and long-term goals. The coach may connect them with a financial counselor who teaches a class and can offer individualized advice and support. The overall effect is an environment in which families are encouraged, and feel more comfortable, asking questions about their progress and goals, and in which coaches are both empowered and equipped to pull together the various resources and services needed to help families meet those goals.

The model is not perfect (no service provision model is). For some organizations, coordinating their policies and procedures with other agencies can be a time-consuming logistical challenge. And employees can sometimes feel conflicted when they are expected to honor their original mission and, at the same time, advance the (usually complementary) mission of the collaboration.

Frances_sykes_jackie_edwardsThat said, most of the feedback we've received from our grantee organizations suggests that participating in a collaboration has opened up opportunities that put them in a stronger position to fulfill their missions, scale their work, and help more families achieve their dreams. It's time for other foundations and philanthropists to consider what they can do to encourage collaboration in service provision through their funding models and support strategies. At the end of the day, collaboration enables all of us to better accomplish our missions and create meaningful, lasting change.

Frances Sykes is president and Jackie Edwards is vice president of strategic engagement at the Pascale Sykes Foundation, which promotes the integrity, independence, and well-being of working low-income families.To learn more, visit https://pascalesykesfoundation.com/.

Women's Movements Hold the Key to Gender Equality — So Why Aren't Donors Funding Them?

June 21, 2019

Strong_womanAt the Women Deliver conference in early June, the Canadian government announced that it was pledging $300 million to the Equality Fund to advance women's rights worldwide. The announcement was especially exciting because the fund is committed to supporting feminist movements and their advocacy work — an unusual focus for an international development initiative.

Over the last two decades, U.S. foundations and the international development community have dramatically increased funding for women and girls in the Global South. Yet despite these outlays — avowedly dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls — evidence has shown that most funding going to women's empowerment is not only ineffective but actually harmful.

The typical thinking goes something like this: Empower a woman in the Global South with the means to generate her own income and prevent unwanted pregnancy, and she will invest in the health and education of her children and family, ending the vicious cycle of poverty and generating an outsized return on investment. This approach focuses on the individual woman or girl. Very little, if any, support goes to feminist organizations and movements. The missing link is the advocacy efforts of feminist groups, which are dedicated to changing the very structures that perpetuate inequality and oppression.

A 2012 study by Mala Htun and S. Laurel Weldon based on 1975-2005 data from seventy countries found that the critical factor in domestic policy change focused on addressing violence against women was not the activities of left-wing parties or national wealth but rather the mobilization of feminists. And a 2018 study by Alice J. Kang and Aili Mari Tripp based on data from fifty African countries similarly found that without action by domestic women's coalitions, legislative reform on women's rights was significantly less likely to occur. Feminist movements drive lasting change. Indeed, they are usually the only factor that does.

So what kind of funding should donors provide to feminist movements and organizations? Social change takes time. To be effective, activists must be nimble and able to respond strategically to changing conditions. As such, they require flexible, long-term funding that allows them to control the direction of their work. Yet over the past decade, the share of general operating support for gender equality from U.S. foundations has dropped from 30 percent to 15 percent.This trend reflects the philanthropic community's increasing preoccupation with the need to demonstrate its own impact — which translates into funding for specific, time-bound projects with "measurable outcomes" that often have little to do with effective change. Currently, less than 5 percent of empowerment funding from U.S. foundations goes to grassroots organizing, and only 0.1 percent supports convenings — spaces where women can collaborate, strategize, and build solidarity across diverse movements.

Numerous studies have shown that this pattern of funding cripples vibrant social movements. In 2009, Dean Chahim and Aseem Prakash found that the shift toward project support and stringent reporting requirements fractured, depoliticized, and, ultimately, de-legitimized Nicaraguan women's organizations. Organizations were forced to compete with one another for funding, which in turn disincentivized collective action and disrupted productive partnerships. Donor-funded projects also took time away from activism, ultimately directing organizations toward social service provision rather than transformative change. What's more, the weakening of women's organizations by donor funding has been documented in Brazil, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Ghana, Palestine, and Egypt from the late 1990s to the present.

How do we reverse this trend? For thirty-five years, the International Women's Health Coalition has supported and partnered with women's organizations worldwide. We know that women are a unique force for equality and social liberation. It is why we employ a strategy based on the Whitman Institute's trust-based philanthropy model. And it is why we provide general operating support to local women's organizations and fund grassroots women's movements.

We have funded specific women's organizations and movements for more than two decades, standing by their side through the ups and downs of social change. In Uruguay, for example, we celebrated when the country liberalized its abortion law after more than fifteen years of feminist organizing. In Poland, we have rallied in support of our grantee partner, the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning, as it resisted repeated attacks on women's reproductive autonomy and rights. And in Pakistan, we increased financial support for our partner Aahung after the government decided to implement the organization's sexuality education curriculum in public schools.

Philanthropy must function in service of the communities it seeks to empower, rather than as an exercise in self-congratulatory metrics. It is time for funders to reexamine their models and seriously consider how they can move beyond the traditional frameworks of charity or development to truly empower women and feminist movements to drive change.

We invite other funders to join us and provid e women-led organizations with long-term, unrestricted, general operating support. Donors should celebrate the coalitions built by women and encourage cooperation, not competition, among feminist groups. Most importantly, funders should support women's leadership and agency and commit to women's own priorities. If even a fraction of U.S. foundations revised their strategies to recognize the need for consciousness raising and political action, they would be helping to catalyze sustainable social change in countries and regions where it is desperately needed.

In the current global political climate, feminist movements have emerged as frontline defenders against the rising tide of authoritarianism, hatred, and xenophobia. We must support these efforts, rather than cripple them. Canada's investment shows how we might begin to turn the tide.

Headshot_francoise_girard_for_philantopicFrançoise Girard, president of the International Women's Health Coalition, is a lawyer by training and an advocate for sexual and reproductive health and women's rights. She has played a key role in advocating at many UN conferences, from ICPD+5 to the process to negotiate the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Donor Dollars Into Dividends: The Past, Present, and Future of Nonprofits Aiding the Private Sector

June 20, 2019

TreeForkIllustrationBleeding plant-based burgers were last month’s biggest financial news. Beyond Meat had the most successful initial public offering of any startup since the 2008 crash, and Impossible Foods raised $300 million in venture capital. Both burgers can hold their own in the meat aisle or a fast food restaurant.

Clearly, there's a lot of money to be made by making meat without animals. So why are nonprofits spending donor dollars to support the industry?

It's no secret that nonprofits have a strained relationship with the private sector. All too often, it falls on us to clean up the messes businesses make — or to stop them from making those same messes again.

But when there's an urgent need for new entrants to transform an industry, nonprofits can play a pivotal role in making that transition happen — and happen fast.

Consider the industry producing antiretroviral drugs (ARV) for HIV. When the lifesaving treatment was first invented, it was produced in small quantities and sold for $10,000 to $15,000 a year. Most patients, especially those in AIDS-ravaged Africa, literally couldn't afford to survive.

To ensure that everyone could access treatment, activists knew they would need a pharmaceutical industry that could make up for low margins by selling in huge volumes. They encouraged new entrants, pressured incumbent companies, brokered purchase agreements, and funded scientific research. Prices dropped a hundredfold in less than a decade.

Today, incumbent energy producers are making fat profits by pushing us to the brink of climate disaster. Producing clean, renewable energy will be an uphill battle as long as existing infrastructure, government policies, and economies of scale make fossil fuels cheap and convenient.

Society needs clean energy companies to avoid catastrophe, so nonprofits have taken up their cause.

Nonprofits like Ceres, the American Council on Renewable Energy, and Vote Solar help green technologies get to scale by advocating for government policies that help clean energy compete with fossil fuels. In the meantime, Re-VOLV provides crowdfunding to help get solar projects off the ground. And Grid Alternatives is one of the groups making sure this transition lifts everyone by providing green job training in underserved communities.

In every case, donors are funding programs that help certain companies profit. They know the sooner these companies succeed, the sooner we can stem the tide of climate change.

Now the nonprofit world needs to transform agriculture.

Society can no longer bear the costs of meat-production-as-usual. Animal agriculture causes more climate change than the emissions of all the world's vehicles combined. Eighty percent of medically relevant antibiotics are fed to farm animals, breeding the drug-resistant superbugs that by 2050 could kill more people per year than cancer kills today. The world's hungry deserve nutritious and delicious food, but there simply isn't enough land on earth for everyone to eat as much meat as Americans do.

Haranguing people to eat beans rather than beef hasn't paid off yet, despite decades of trying. The climate is changing too quickly to rely on vegan evangelism alone. As the global demand for meat rises, we need a food system that eliminates the waste, biohazards, and inherent cruelty of industrial animal farming. We need a meat industry that makes meat out of plants or grows it directly from cells.

The success of the field's leading companies is inspiring, but it's not enough. For this industry to succeed in time to solve the problems we face, it needs nonprofits' help.

Plenty of technical challenges remain. The vast majority of plant-based meat is made from just a few crops. Unlocking the full power of the plant kingdom will enable us to make better meat — not just burgers, but also bacon — and make it more sustainably.

Meanwhile, companies like Memphis Meats and Finless Foods are growing meat straight from cells. The result is animal meat, right down to its DNA, but it does not require breeding and feeding whole animals, making it more resource efficient. With the basic science well understood, the challenge now is to scale up production of this cell-based meat and lower prices enough to compete with slaughtered meat.

Investors will fund patent-protected research and development, but philanthropic dollars can support open access-research that can benefit the whole industry, not just one company.

As if the technical complexities of re-inventing meat weren't challenging enough, some holdouts are doing everything they can to keep plant-based and cell-based meat from competing on a level playing field. Their favorite strategy — banning the use of "meat" and related terms on plant-based or cell-based meat — has already become law in a dozen states. Unlike Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, most plant-based and cell-based meat startups are still small. They don't have the personnel or expertise to fight for fair laws, even in the face of existential threats.

Fortunately, speaking truth to power is what nonprofits do best. We need to convince policy makers that the word games have real consequences for the planet and its people.

Even when things are going well for the new meat industry, that doesn't mean it's benefiting the communities that need it most. Nonprofits can leverage their connections to help companies take root in markets like India and Brazil, which have high need and high potential but low margins and difficult logistics.

Would we get affordable AIDS medication, renewable energy, and sustainable meat if nonprofits didn't support these industries? Probably — sooner or later.

But when the status quo benefits the few at the expense of the many, later is not an option. By funding initiatives that accelerate open-access research in making meat from plants and cells, strategic philanthropists can transform Big Ag into Better Ag faster than the market ever would on its own, and they can make sure this change benefits the people that need it most.

Headshot_Jessica_Almy_for_PhilanTopicJessica Almy is director of policy for the Good Food Institute, a global nonprofit working to build a sustainable, healthy, and just food system. 

5 Tips for Giving Great Design Feedback

June 19, 2019

Feedback2Receiving feedback and iterating on creative work is a huge part of what we do every day at Constructive. Whether we're conducting an internal review with our designers and art directors, or discussing work with clients, collaboration is crucial to improving our work.

That said, it's easy to go through the motions without thinking critically about how to optimize the delivery of feedback when deadlines are approaching, budgets are tight, and multiple projects are being juggled. In my role as a project manager, I've sat in countless meetings to review feedback and have seen teams (ours and our clients) use different tactics to deliver that feedback, with varying degrees of success. What I've learned from the experience is that the difference between good and bad feedback can have a real impact on the overall success of a project and, therefore, is worth paying attention to. In that spirit, I'd like to share a few tips on how you can give great design feedback.

How to Give Great Design Feedback

1. Ask questions. A successful design process is by definition collaborative, and asking thoughtful questions only serves to strengthen that process. By posing questions rather than sending the design team a list of specific changes it needs to make, a client can open up lines of communication, encourage further discussion, and ensure that assumptions (false or otherwise) aren't inadvertently baked into the cake. Ultimately, a design team looks to its clients for their expertise in their particular issue area, and often it will learn more about a client's (and the client's audiences') needs when the client questions its design choices and a healthy conversation ensues.

2. Communicate problems, not solutions. It can be tempting to review a design and propose solutions to things you don't think are working. A better approach is to communicate what the problem is and why the said design decision is problematic. For example, if you don't like the placement of a newsletter call-to-action and want to see it moved to another page, telling us why you think your website visitors are more likely to sign up for your newsletter when engaged with another content type (news updates vs. insights, for example) will give us more insight about your audience and help us offer a better solution. By describing the problem, you're equipping the design team with information needed to explore other solutions, rather than spoon-feeding the team a solution that might not be the best one.

3. Keep the focus on strategic goals. Visual design can be subjective, so keeping the conversation focused on whether or not the design is meeting the stated goals is a great way to keep feedback discussions productive and projects moving in the right direction. Instead of asking yourself whether you like the new design, remind yourself about the project's strategic goals. Does the design successfully address the needs of the audiences you serve? For example, if the stated goal of a research hub is to be the go-to resource for policy makers in a field, does the layout support their need to get timely updates and be able to skim dense articles? If so, great! If not, it's probably a good time to start asking questions and describing the problem (see tips 1 and 2).

4. Consolidate feedback. Establishing a clear process for delivering feedback is critical to the success of a project — even more so when multiple stakeholders are involved. Consider: several stakeholders are reviewing a design mockup and provide comments that contradict one another. Some think highlighting the metrics related to a grantee's performance will be too difficult to maintain on the website, while others feel strongly they should be included. Not only does sorting through the conflicting feedback take time, it also puts the onus on the design team to make sense of the competing views and decide which one should be implemented.

To avoid such a scenario (a project manager's worst nightmare), we ask our clients to deliver feedback that reflects their final decision. And when a project warrants it, we advise clients to define specific project roles using a RACI matrix (responsibility assignment matrix). For instance, we recommend having one team member be "responsible" for delivering feedback and ensuring those who need to be "consulted" on the final decision have had a chance to voice their opinion.

5. Don't forget to share the good. Everyone likes to receive affirmation on a job well done. Even though feedback meetings typically focus more on ways to improve work, we love it when clients share what's working really well within a design. Not only does the pat on the back encourage us to keep working hard, it also allows us to build up a knowledge base of what the client likes so that we can bring more ideas to the table aligned with their design ideas and preferences.

Wrapping up

Paying attention to the way in which design feedback is delivered can have a real impact on the success of a project. By implementing these five tips, you'll be doing your part to make sure the design process is collaborative, team roles are defined, strategic goals figure into decision-making, and projects run a little more smoothly.

Headshot-Lily-Moaba-150x150Lily Moaba is a senior project manager at Constructive and collaborates with the firm's clients and internal team to keep projects moving, ensuring everyone remains focused on priorities, deadlines, and deliverables. before joining Constructive, she managed strategic partnerships and technology projects for American Corporate Partners for three years and spent time as a research assistant for the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research. A version of this article appears on the Constructive site.

Creating a Donor Stewardship Plan: 3 Best Practices

June 17, 2019

Istockphoto-500174600-612x612A common fundraising mistake made by many nonprofits is to put so much emphasis on acquiring new donors that they forget to pay attention to the donors they already have.

Do not allow donor stewardship — the process by which an organization builds strong, healthy relationships with existing donors long after their initial donations have been received — to become an afterthought. Effective donor stewardship is all about turning first-time donors into loyal, recurring donors and is essential to keeping your donor retention rate where it should be.

Sounds simple. And it is, if you keep these best practices in mind as you sit down to develop a donor stewardship strategy:

  1. Understand and use your donor data effectively.
  2. Make it easy for your donors to leverage the impact of their gifts.
  3. Publicly thank your donors for all they do.

Let's take a closer look:

1. Understand and use your donor data. Donor data can be overwhelming and cause lots of people lots of stress if it isn't collected regularly and with an eye to how it is going to be used. But when done properly, data analytics can help you understand who your donors are, when they are most likely to give, and what kind of appeal they are most likely to respond to.

Your data should do three things:

  • Provide you with basic knowledge about your donors (e.g., name, age, location, marital status, profession, the things that excite them about your organization, other organizations they support, etc.)
  • Capture their giving/communications preferences (e.g., preferred donation amount/range, preferred giving frequency, preferred communications channels/frequency, etc.).
  • Give you an idea of their capacity to give (e.g., net worth)

(To learn more about donor analytics and the importance of using donor data properly, see our prievous post. And to learn more about what motivates giving behavior and how you can use that knowledge to increase your donor retention, check out this study from OneCause.)

Knowing who your donors are is the first step in cultivating strong, lasting donor relationships and allows you to meet them on their terms.

The next step? Contact each of your donors and try to engage them in a conversation about:

  • the impact of their previous gift
  • the importance of your cause
  • what your organization could do with more resources
  • the possibility of furthering their engagement with your organization

Your donor data, when used effectively, can greatly enhance your ability to engage your donors, improve your fundraising results, and boost your donor retention rate.

2. Make it easy for your donors to leverage the impact of their gifts. Your nonprofit is sustained by the generosity of its donors. To ensure that each donation has the greatest possible impact and leads to recurring donations, you should seek out and promote corporate matches (in which a company or corporation agrees to matches the donations of its employees to your organization). Corporate matching campaigns amplify the impact of donors’ gifts with minimal effort on your part and no additional monetary contribution on the part of donors.

To simplify the matching-gift process for donors:

  • make sure any and all "Donate" buttons on your website are prominently displayed and work seamlessly.
  • provide a matching gift database search tool like 360MatchPro so that donors can search for their employer and the details of the company's matching gift program (if they have one), including minimum and maximum match amounts and the match ratio; employee eligibility criteria (full-time, part-time, and/or retired); organization eligibility criteria; and in-kind employee volunteer information (if any).
  • the database should also provide information on how to submit required matching-gift forms to the donor's employer. Because more than 80 percent of matching-gift forms are submitted online, a donor should be able to seamlessly complete this task as s/he is making a donation. His/her employer will then review the form, confirm the employee's donation with your nonprofit — and send you a check!

Encouraging matching gifts enables you to engage your donors in a way that benefits all parties involved. Your donors will love that they were able to leverage the impact of their donation to your organization, which, in turn, will deepen their commitment to and sustained engagement with your work. And companies with matching-gift programs will be grateful that their charitable contribution(s) supported a cause near and dear to a valued employee's heart.

One other thing: Be sure to follow up with donors after they've made a donation and suggest they consider having their donation matched by their employer. It's a good way to extend your relationship with them, and it’s a great way to improve your donor retention rate.

3. Publicly thank your donors for all they do. Do you know the secret to motivating donors to stay engaged? It's pretty simple and starts with "Thank you." Everyone wants to feel appreciated and valued for their efforts, and donors are no different. In fact, your donors will be exponentially more likely to give to your organization on a recurring basis if you take the time to thank them for their donations.

There are many ways to do that, including:

Online: You can display your gratitude online in two ways: in an email and on your website. Make sure your online donation process includes an automated thank-you email to donors when a donation has been completed, but don't stop there. Your organization should have an email newsletter (monthly, quarterly) that you can use to express your gratitude for your donors and tell them, in compelling fashion, what you’ve been able to accomplish with their support. In addition, your website should include a donor spotlight feature where you highlight the contributions of loyal donors.

In person: Galas and other in-person fundraising events are the perfect opportunity to really connect with your donors with a personal "thank you." Never underestimate the value of looking a donor in the eye, shaking his or her hand, and telling them their donation really made a difference. Donors will be much more likely to donate again if they hear from the horse's mouth, as it were, that good work is being done and their donations are helping to make that work possible.

In public: Public recognition of your donors on a wall or plaque is a great way to show them you value your relationship with them. When doing so, be sure to display the name of the fundraising campaign, the donor's name, the gift amount or range, and the season and year in which the donation was made (e.g., spring 2019). This type of thank you not only shows your organization's appreciation for its donors, it also will inspire others to give.

Your donors are one of your nonprofit's most valuable resources, and donor stewardship is essential to the success of your organization's fundraising. Demonstrating your gratitude is an excellent way to guarantee your organization maintains a relationship with them over the long haul.

Got any other tips or advice for nonprofits looking to develop an effective donor stewardship strategy and improve their retention rates? We’d love to hear him.

Headshot_adam_weingerAdam Weinger is president of Double the Donation, a provider of tools that help nonprofits raise more money from corporate matching gift and volunteer grant programs.

Youth Apprenticeship: Accelerating a Path to College and Career Success 

June 13, 2019

MachineapprenticeWe seem to have reached a consensus that, in today's economy, it's nearly impossible to secure a quality job and get on the path to economic stability without postsecondary education. But the reality of student loan debt and surveys which show college graduates don’t feel prepared for their career of choice challenges the narrative that a successful future is intrinsically linked to a college degree.

Reality is also hitting employers' bottom lines as businesses of all sizes and in a variety of fields, including information technology, manufacturing, finance, and healthcare, struggle to fill good-paying positions. The pipeline that used to lead young people through high school and, ultimately, to the skills needed to secure those jobs is broken — and it might not have ever worked equitably, anyway.

It's clear our country needs additional, widely accessible postsecondary options that provide young people with the foundational skills, experiences, and credentials they need to thrive in a rapidly changing economy.

K-12 systems, institutions of higher education, and industries alike have been searching for solutions that reflect the current and future state of work, with little success. For decades, philanthropy has been investing to improve educational outcomes and college access, and it, too, recognizes that new approaches are needed, and fast.

That's why we funded the Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship (PAYA), a multi-stakeholder New America-led initiative to promote more equitable and sustainable pathways to economic mobility. PAYA aims to do this by partnering with educators and employers to build more scalable long-term solutions that have been proven to help youth acquire the skills they need to navigate the rapidly changing world of work.

Youth apprenticeship aligns the needs of young people with the talent needs of employers. It builds on what is working in K-12, higher education, and work-based learning. Young people earn a high school diploma, gain paid real-world work experience, and earn college credit and credentials, at no cost to them or their families.

Far from an alternative to college, these programs can be a direct and less costly route through college, expanding rather than limiting students' future options. Apprenticeships can expand career options and economic opportunity for young people of color and others for whom it's mostly out of reach. Apprenticeship also keeps youth engaged in school and the workplace while earning a wage.

There is growing evidence that paid work experience really matters, especially for youth from underresourced communities. A recent analysis by the Brookings Institution and Child Trends underscores the importance of paid work-experience in connecting students to mentors and networks early in their careers, setting them on a path to long-term success.

We know we're onto something. In March 2019 we issued an RFP for PAYA's high-quality youth apprenticeship grants and received more than two hundred applications from forty-nine states and Puerto Rico. We have been floored by the response from states, cities, and regions across the country that have expressed real interest in launching or expanding youth apprenticeship programs.

In May 2019, PAYA awarded nearly $1.2 million in initial grants to expand pathways for high-school age youth to succeed in college and the workforce. The grants will support local employers, educators, community partners, and policy leaders who are working to build high-quality youth apprenticeship programs that promote inclusive economic development and create new opportunities for young people. By connecting these innovators, we hope to capture and disseminate best practices for students, employers, and communities that help them dramatically accelerate the pace of implementation.

We see youth apprenticeship as a rare and promising combination of the past and the future. Reinvented to address student disengagement, the need for greater diversity, and accountability to low-income students and students of color, youth apprenticeship deserves support from private funders, governments, and industry. As funders and believers in finding solutions to our ongoing struggle to provide educational and economic opportunity, we're planting a flag and invite others to join us in the cause.

This post represents the views of funders of the Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship, which include Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Ballmer Group, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and the Siemens Foundation. To learn more about the initiative, see the PAYA website.

The Essential Guide to Modernizing Your Fundraising

June 11, 2019

NonProfit-Online-FundraisingIf you've been feeling stuck with fundraising strategies that don't quite seem to cut it anymore, you're not alone. Just as our technologies require periodic updates, so, too, do our broader fundraising strategies.

Nonprofit organizations of all sizes generally run a tight ship. Insufficient budgets and high-intensity campaigns mean that most nonprofits like to stick with what has worked in the past. But a lot can change, relatively quickly, in the fundraising world.

For example, look at telethons or cold calling; they were once reliable fundraising tactics for organizations of all kinds. But today, millennial and Gen Z donors tend to not even bother answering calls from unknown numbers, and why should they? Non-urgent communication has almost completely shifted to email and text messaging.

The point? Your nonprofit's fundraising strategies have to keep pace with constantly changing technologies and donor preferences — even when the prospect of investing precious time and resources in new tools is enough to ruin your week.

At DNL OmniMedia, we help nonprofits make the most of their digital assets. Regardless of which part of your fundraising strategy could use an upgrade, there are always steps your organization can take to improve its ability to both raise money and engage donors. And sometimes the steps are simple.

Let's take a closer look at some of them.

Conducting a Strategy Check-Up

This is the essential first step in the process and should precede any changes you decide to make to your fundraising strategy. Basically, you need to understand what you need to improve and why.

Take a comprehensive look at your current fundraising strategy, including all the different elements that go into it:

  • Current fundraising strategy. ;What types of campaigns do you conduct year after year? Which ones do your donors respond to — and which ones do they ignore? Is there a type of campaign you think you should be conducting but haven't had the time to explore or research?
  • Goals and necessities. Take a look at your bottom line. What's your budget for tech upgrades? Is there a specific goal you need to achieve, like growing your donor base by a certain percentage or retaining a certain share of donors?
  • Fundraising toolkit. What tools do you already have at your disposal? Have you been making good use of them? Is there anything you're not using but should? Is there anything you can afford to do without?
  • Available resources. What kind of support resources are available? If you're using a Blackbaud platform, for instance, have you already made yourself familiar with Blackbaud support and training resources? Or, if you've worked with a consultant or agency in the past, have you inquired about a fundraising assessment?

The main idea at this stage is to take a careful look at the tactics and tools you've already got in place. Rely on your donor data to identify those that most successfully engage donors and boost revenue.

This will help focus your attention on what needs improvement and enable you to begin to prioritize the various elements of your strategy. It also will make it harder for your team to waste time, energy, and money on things not on the list.

Upgrading Your Tech Toolkit

Chances are pretty good that new technology is going to play a big role in your efforts to modernize your organization's fundraising strategy. Tech updates come in all shapes and sizes, from simple add-ons to complete overhauls and system redesigns. Again, that's why it is so important to take the time to really understand your needs (or work with an expert who can help you understand them) before researching new products.

No matter how elaborate or costly the tech updates you hope to make, there's a fairly standard process you should follow, from initial research to final implementation. Let's walk through the steps:

1. Recruit a team. While it may seem unnecessary for small organizations interested in making minor technology updates to get more than one person involved, getting multiple perspectives, even for the simplest upgrade, is essential. At a minimum, the organization's director or a board member and key staff members whose day-to-day work will be affected should be involved. For larger-scale projects, the team also should include a consultant and additional stakeholders, as needed.

2. Evaluate your existing toolkit. Focus specifically on your toolkit. Make a list of all the software and Web-based tools your organization uses in its fundraising. Next, list the pros and cons of each tool and piece of software and have members of the team (ex board members) rate them on a scale of 1 to 5 with respect to their effectiveness, ease of use, etc. After you've compiled the ratings and feedback from every team member, you should have a good idea of the state of your toolkit.

3. Define your priorities. With a better understanding of the weak links in your existing systems and toolkit, you can use the ratings to set priorities for needed upgrades. Tools or platforms that were rated poorly across all categories or those that are impacting a team member's ability to do his or her job should be moved to the top of the upgrade list.

Your list of priorities should be informed both by the organizational pain points you've identified and your fundraising goals. Say your donation software does a good job of processing donations but your conversion rate is low. Improving your conversion rate should definitely be an upgrade priority — especially if a member of the team can recommend a tool with features that specifically support that goal.

4. Define your needs and make a budget. Take your list of priorities and start jotting down what is entailed in each one. The list should include things like:

  • the purchase of new hardware, software, or other digital service
  • custom development or configuration by a tech consultant
  • training resources for staff who'll be using the new tools

Next, outline the time and resources your organization is able to devote to the upgrades.

You may find your needs are more complicated than initially expected based on your list of core priorities. For example, if your top priority is to switch to a more advanced CRM, you may find that some of the other tools you depend on don't integrate with newer products or cloud-based services. In that case, you'll need to work with a tech consultant who can help you identify a CRM that works with your existing tools and can help with the integrations.

5. Begin researching vendors. Your team should split up the work of researching vendors for the new tools you plan to purchase. Use your list of priorities and budget as a guide, and pay close attention to any integrations or unique features you'll need. This is also the stage when you should determine whether and how much support you'll need from a tech consultant.

6. Develop a timeline and think about training. Once your decisions about software purchases, vendors, and consultants have been finalized, it's time to develop an implementation timeline. This step is crucial and should not be overlooked.

Without a carefully developed timeline and clearly defined roles for each member of the team, even the simplest project can quickly go off the rails. We recommend that you start the timeline process by settling on a hard end-date. Then work backward to establish milestones and check-in dates along the way.

Don't forget to include training in your timeline. And remember: your staff will need a reasonable period of time to get up and running on the new system before you can realistically expect to see improvement.

7. Finalize your plans. You're almost there! Before you "flip the switch" on the new system, you'll probably want to compile all the steps, decisions, and insights you generated during the process into a single document that team members can refer to as needed. Your board may also want to read through the document before giving their final approval.

Once all that is done, there are still a few things you may want to consider. Make sure you've established metrics and/or a system to measure your progress and success. If you haven't already done so, this is also a good time to begin applying for grant funding. (A comprehensive final document can be a great springboard for a compelling application!)

Putting It Into Action

Taking care of the technical aspects of your project is just half the challenge. Next, you'll need to put all those tech upgrades and improvements into action by matching them with updated fundraising strategies.

It can be tricky to figure out where to start. Try framing the question this way: Where do technology and fundraising intersect? Answer: In the big-picture strategies that determine how you use tech to support your fundraising efforts, including online fundraising, data management, and digital marketing.

We've put together a comprehensive guide designed to help you develop a new digital strategy for your nonprofit. Here's the boiled-down version:

  1. Establish your goals. These should be your bigger, overarching fundraising and donor engagement goals rather than the more specific tech goals discussed above.
  2. Identify your audience. Review your engagement data and think carefully about your donor base before you begin to outline a strategy you think they'll respond to.
  3. Define your constraints. These include things like budgets, deadlines, and other projects.
  4. Equip your team. This step essentially refers to the whole process we outlined in the "Upgrading Your Tech Toolkit" section above.
  5. Craft a communication plan. Think about your marketing channels, identify key spots through which you can funnel donors, and consider how your tech tools, new and old, can support each other.
  6. Test your infrastructure. Make sure you've got the tech infrastructure that donors will be interacting with in place, and make sure it is reporting engagement data properly.
  7. Measure your success. Conduct frequent check-ins to see how your new and improved strategies are working. And don't be afraid to make adjustments in real time.

For examples of a robust, comprehensive digital fundraising strategy that encompasses both tech and marketing, think about your favorite peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns. Such campaigns regularly put nonprofits to the test because they involve so many complex online and offline elements that need to build off of one another.

As you get started on modernizing your fundraising strategies, remember that such a project usually has two aspects: big-picture changes and specific upgrades. For example, you may decide that the key to boosting your donor retention numbers is to focus more on listening to and sharing donor stories. This is an example of big-picture change that can really deepen your engagement with your donors. And the flipside is making sure you've got the tools and communications strategies to support it.

A final tip: When it comes to modernizing your fundraising technology and strategies, you want to be sure to build in enough time for planning, researching new vendors, and finding and vetting consultants. Trying to do it quickly or on the cheap inevitably will lead to disappointment.

Remember, implementing new tech doesn't have to be a terrifying prospect for your organization. As with any other challenge, you'll find that breaking it down into manageable parts and steps goes a very long way. After all, nothing's as important for your nonprofit than its ability to engage with donors and translate those relationships into needed financial support.

Headshot_carl_diesing_for_philantopicCarl Diesing is co-founder and managing director of DNL OmniMediawhere he works with nonprofits to strengthen their fundraising and build their capacity to drive social change.

Advancing Child Welfare's New Imperative: Ensuring a Stable, Loving Home for Every Child

June 10, 2019

HLT01819During the early 2000s, the number of international adoptions reached unprecedented levels. At the same time, a number of high-profile celebrities adopted children born overseas, raising the visibility of a pathway that has provided loving, permanent homes to thousands of children since the 1950s.

In the years since, international adoption numbers have fallen
82 percent, with just 4,059 children joining families in the United States in 2018, according to a U.S. State Department report.

A host of complex factors have contributed to the decline. These range from the implementation of initiatives to help children remain with their birth families and increased domestic adoption in some countries, to changes in adoptive family eligibility in others. Some countries have closed their international adoption programs due to concerns about unethical practices — or for reasons of politics. In many cases, however, the process has simply become too difficult or costly for families seeking to adopt a child from overseas.

For children waiting for families, this is a devastating trend.

Across the globe, millions of children are growing up in overcrowded, underfunded orphanages. Many have never experienced the love and nurturing care of a devoted parent or caregiver. And many have special medical or developmental needs — needs that too often go unmet.

To truly meet the needs of children growing up without families, adoption agencies must take a broader and more comprehensive approach to child welfare — an approach that upholds international adoption as one proven way for children to experience the love, stability, and sense of belonging every child deserves. But not the only way.

Moving forward, there are three things agencies can do to ensure a stable, loving home for every child:

Champion efforts to strengthen, preserve, and reunite birth families. Far too often in the developing world, children end up in orphanages for one simple reason: poverty. These children are not orphans. In many cases, they have at least one living parent or family member who would care for them if only they had sufficient resources. Before ever considering adoption, every agency working in the field should have an ethical obligation to first explore the possibility of reuniting a child with his or her immediate or extended family. Agencies should also launch efforts to strengthen and keep families together so that children don't have to be placed in orphanages. By growing their philanthropic support, agencies can broaden their child welfare services and empower parents with the support and resources they need — things like job skills training, small business microloans, and low-cost day care — to become self-reliant and equipped to take care of their own children.

Advocate for in-country adoption. Leaders of adoption agencies must create an infrastructure for in-country adoption similar to the infrastructure and efforts they've created for international adoption. In-country adoption is advantageous for children for a number of reasons. In addition to receiving all the benefits of growing up in a nurturing family, children adopted domestically remain grounded in the cultural traditions of their place of birth. In every country where they facilitate international adoption, agencies should also establish initiatives and provide resources aimed at raising awareness about in-country adoption programs, conduct outreach, and coordinate efforts to find, vet, and prepare prospective adoptive parents. In countries that do not have an established system for in-country adoption, agencies should work with local governments to create one.

Remove barriers to international adoption. In communities across the U.S., families have come forward ready to open their hearts and homes to children who need a family. According to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, 81.5 million Americans have considered adopting a child at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, few American families actually adopt. A study by the foundation cited the cost of adoption and restrictions put in place by countries overseas as the main factors preventing Americans from adopting. Where they can, therefore, agencies must work to remove barriers to adoption and advocate for policy changes at home and abroad. They must also work to make adoption more affordable by growing philanthropic support for adoption, encouraging employers to help cover the cost of adoption, and championing legislation that helps reimburse families who adopt.

International adoption must remain a viable option for children who cannot remain with their birth families. But to truly serve the best interests and needs of children, organizations focused solely on international adoption must evolve. Now is the time to embrace a more comprehensive approach to child welfare.

Headshot_phillip_littleton_for_philantopicPhillip Littleton is president and CEO of Holt International and has led the organization's efforts to expand its services as a child welfare organization, nearly doubling, over five years, the number of children and families served. Littleton has also helped expand Holt's post-adoption services and strengthened its efforts to advocate for child welfare standards and adoptee rights in the U.S. and abroad.

5 Questions for...Tanya Coke, Director, Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice, Ford Foundation

June 05, 2019

Tanya Coke has been involved in issues of criminal justice, mass incarceration, and immigration for more than thirty years. First as a researcher at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, then as a trial attorney in the Legal Aid Society‘s Federal Defender Division, and now as director of Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice at the Ford Foundation, Coke has been actively engaged in public interest law and social justice issues and, at Ford, leads a team focused on harnessing the resources and commitment needed to combat inequality based on gender, race, class, disability, and ethnicity.

PND spoke with Coke about the foundation’s efforts to reduce the U.S. prison population, decouple the criminal justice and immigration enforcement systems, and protect a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.

Headshot_tanya_cokePhilanthropy News Digest: Your work with the Legal Aid Society, the Open Society Institute, and the U.S. Human Rights Fund has given you the kind of frontline exposure to the criminal justice system that few people ever get. You've said you hope to use your platform at the Ford Foundation to help reduce the U.S. prison population by 20 percent by 2022. What makes you believe that goal is achievable? And what kinds of things can the foundation do over the next few years to make that goal a reality?

Tanya Coke: When I began researching criminal justice issues in the late 1980s, politicians from both parties were falling over themselves to out-tough the other on crime. It is widely believed that Michael Dukakis lost the 1988 election over a flubbed debate answer over whether he would consider the death penalty if his wife were raped. It would have been hard to imagine back then that presidential candidates in 2020 would be competing to see who has the most progressive criminal justice reform platform.

That gives me hope and makes me believe we can make significant progress in taming the beast that is mass incarceration in America. Bipartisan momentum for reform is happening because of a confluence of several factors: low crime rates, tight state budgets, and a much greater understanding of how mass incarceration has decimated families and communities and made us all less safe. It is not a window that will remain open forever, however, so while it is open we have to work harder and more effectively to change not just minds about what we're doing but also hearts. That requires narrative change. It requires smart policy advocacy. And it requires more organizing in communities that are most impacted by mass incarceration.

The other thing that makes me feel optimistic is that we have seen prison populations in states like California, New York, and New Jersey drop by more than 30 percent in recent years, and in the past two years we've seen incarceration rates drop by more than 10 percent in very conservative states like Louisiana and Oklahoma. That gives me confidence we can achieve significant reductions in the incarceration rate in other states as well.

But it's not enough to focus on state prison populations. We also have to look at what’s happening in local jails, where people typically serve sentences of less than a year. While state prison populations are coming down, jail populations in many places are rising. To address the situation, we've been focusing on bail reform. Bail needlessly leads to the incarceration of people who shouldn’t be in jail, particularly poor people who don't have the wherewithal to pay cash bail. We're seeing growing awareness of that fact and momentum building across the country to do something about it. Another example is our work to effect broader change in the usual narratives about crime and criminal justice. That work takes the form of support for journalism projects, partnerships with Hollywood, and efforts to leverage other kinds of storytelling platforms, with a focus on trying to re-humanize people who are in the system and imagining a different approach to public safety.

PND: Many people have come to see the criminal justice system in the U.S. as an institutional manifestation of white supremacy. Is that an accurate characterization? And where are we as a society in terms of identifying and dismantling structural barriers to real racial equity and justice?

TC: That is the real work. There is no question that mass incarceration is driven by structural racism. To some degree it was set off by rising crime rates in the 1980s, but more than anything it has been powered by racial fear and a deep-seated instinct toward racial control of surplus labor. In my opinion, mass incarceration would not have been possible during the era of slavery because black bodies were too valuable as property in the South to let them sit idle in jail. Mass incarceration also was not possible in the 1940s or 1950s, the heyday of American manufacturing, again because black labor was needed to keep the auto factories and steel mills humming. But mass incarceration does become possible in the 1980s, after many of those manufacturing jobs had been shipped overseas and, suddenly, lots of people in black communities were forced into the underground economy of drug selling, which in turn led to a heightened, racialized fear of crime. Mass incarceration was a response not only to the advances of the civil rights movement, but also to the hollowing out of industries that employed blacks, and the racial fears that both spawned. In general, police are not comfortable with idle black men on street corners, and that fact accelerated the instinct to warehouse them in prison.

You have only to look at the difference in per capita incarceration rates in heavily black states like Louisiana, where eight hundred people per hundred thousand are incarcerated, and a homogeneous, largely white state like Vermont, where the rate is three hundred people per hundred thousand. Vermont is a state heavily affected by the opioid abuse epidemic, and yet it has made the choice not to incarcerate drug users or sellers at anything like the rate that prevails in states with large black populations such as Louisiana or Mississippi. Vermont is more inclined to treat opiod abuse as a public health problem.

In general, I think our field has not thought enough about the relationship between criminal justice, the control of labor, and the many ways in which black people in the United States have, in effect, become surplus labor. This has implications for social control as well as the rise of corporate interests that are profiting from mass incarceration. It's an under-studied area, and one where we need more research and advocacy to ensure that vulnerable people are reintegrated in a meaningful way into the economy.

PND: How has the current political environment complicated your efforts to address abuses in the criminal justice system with respect to immigrants?

TC: The Trump administration's attack on all forms of immigration, legal and otherwise, has meant that many of our grantees have had to expend an enormous amount of time and energy in defense of their clients and constituents. From the Muslim ban to separating children from their parents at the border, the administration's aim is to sow chaos and confusion. And our grantees have had to respond both on the ground and at the policy level. That said, there's also a pretty broad consensus among people on both sides of the debate that our current immigration system is broken.

PND: What would a reasonable, realistic immigration policy for the United States look like?

TC: I'll leave the details of that to the experts. But overall, we would like to see a system that recognizes the humanity of migrants and refugees and treats them with compassion. We'd like to see a system that recognizes that people do not lose their rights or dignity because they're fleeing persecution or seeking a better life for their families. And we expect that our country eventually will move toward a system that comports more closely with its values, as well as with the reality that our economy needs the labor and ingenuity of immigrants.

In the meantime, we're focusing on one aspect of the system that is especially harmful and where we see potential for change: the criminalization of immigration. We want to see the criminal justice and immigration enforcement systems decoupled. For nearly a century, immigration in this country has been a civil matter and largely a matter of labor demand. But over the past few years, the federal government and nativist forces have turned immigration into a criminal matter. We're criminally prosecuting people for simply crossing the border or seeking asylum, and we're doing it in ways that are excessively punitive — even though we already have a civil court system that addresses immigration violations. Illegal entry has become the most prosecuted crime in the entire federal system, and we're talking about people with no charges or criminal convictions, other than gaining entry to the U.S. without proper authorization.

We and our grantees strongly believe that local police should not be in the business of enforcing federal immigration law. It damages police-community relations, it leads to racial profiling, and it makes communities less safe by deterring immigrants from seeking police protection and emboldening those who victimize them. So we are working to try to make immigration enforcement systems more accountable and subject to greater oversight. At the moment, more dollars are spent on immigration enforcement than on all other federal enforcement activities combined. We want to make sure those dollars are well spent, and that there is a mechanism to hold agencies accountable when violations occur.

PND: Several states in the South and the Midwest have recently passed so-called "fetal heartbeat" bills that, if they survive a court challenge, will effectively eliminate a woman's right to an abortion in those states. Are those bills — and the broader effort to re-litigate a woman's right to choose — something the foundation is paying attention to? And what would you say to women who are alarmed by those legislative efforts?

TC: Yes, absolutely we're paying attention. In fact, in the last several years we have made reproductive freedom the center of our portfolio in anticipation of the kind of legislation we're seeing now. Women across the country have good reason to be alarmed, even though these laws will be challenged in court. In fact, we anticipate that a case challenging the constitutionality of a woman's right to choose will make it to the Supreme Court within the next twelve months.

What we're seeing is the culmination of many years of work by anti-abortion forces to chip away at women's reproductive rights. In many states today, there is only a single abortion clinic left, so while women might have a constitutional right to abortion in principle, they have little or no access to abortion services in reality. And what we're seeing with this latest slate of bills is making de jure what already is a de facto loss of rights for women.

Of course, poor women, especially poor women of color, will be most affected by a ban on abortion — both in terms of a denial of access to abortion services and the criminalization of women and doctors who seek or provide them. In this moment of crisis, we've been working more closely with other funders to align our giving and strategy in high-need states. It's important at this critical moment to strike the right balance between directing funds to organizations that are focused on women of color, organizations like Women with a Vision in Louisiana and Southerners on New Ground in Georgia, and that are on the frontline of some of these battles and national litigation, and policy shops like the ACLUPlanned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights.

But we also need broader mobilization efforts that embolden ordinary women and men to speak up. We need to hear from the millions of women who've had abortions, whose daughters have sought an abortion, as well as the men who, with their partners, were able to postpone having a family until they were ready. The anti-abortion forces have turned what is a private decision into a cultural issue and stigmatized it. Yet more than 60 percent of Americans support the right to safe and legal abortion. And a significant part of our work over the next few years will be focused on making it safe for people to say so.

 Matt Sinclair

 

Giving Voice to Your Supporters

June 03, 2019

Giving_voiceIn their desire to give voice to the vulnerable and underserved in society, most cause-driven organizations fail to include their supporters in the equation. By failing to do so, they are denying others a golden opportunity to see themselves in the same light.

A few years ago, an agency for pregnant women/healthy newborns came to us for help with a fundraising campaign. The agency's volunteers visit pregnant women in their homes to teach them about prenatal care and how to take care of a newborn. The agency's typical supporter is someone who wants to give babies a healthy, safe start in life.

At the same time, the agency was committed to a program focused on fathers-to-be. Nowhere in the program materials was there recognition or an acknowledgment of how invested the agency's volunteers were in giving babies a healthy, safe start in life or, indeed, any mention of the volunteers who were lending their time and experience to reassure and help pregnant women who often have no one they can turn to for help.

Not surprisingly, the overall campaign was not as successful as it could have been. Potential supporters who might have seen themselves as "people who think every baby deserves a chance at a healthy beginning" instead heard "we are an organization that wants to help men be good fathers." Both sentiments are laudable, but only one truly resonated with the agency’s most important constituency.

If you've been reading my articles here on PhilanTopic, you know how important I think it is for supporters and potential supporters of a cause to know that others believe in the same cause and are actively doing something to advance it. The reinforcement of belief is a powerful factor in deepening an individual's involvement in a cause or issue and in creating a powerful sense of identity among a group of like-minded people.

One organization that is especially good at acknowledging the shared identity of its supporters is the Surfrider Foundation. Surfrider refers to its supporters as "Champions of Surf and Sand" and praises them as "a community of everyday people who passionately protect our playground the ocean, waves and beaches that provide us with so much enjoyment."

Consider this recent message from the organization:

Over 30 Surfrider Chapters participated in #HandsAcrossTheSand events — joining thousands of activists around the world in saying ‘NO’ to offshore drilling and ‘YES’ to clean energy.

The identity of the Surfrider community is unambiguous and empowering:

We're people who love and want to actively protect the oceans and beaches. When we band together and fight, we win. We are stronger together.

The appeal of such language is irresistible to someone who is passionate about the issue of ocean conservation. And it's effective because it comes directly out of the experience of the organization’s supporters, rather than from the organization's CEO or development director.

I've said many times that sharing authentic, compelling stories about the people who benefit from the actions we take is at the heart of every successful movement. I stand by that statement. However, most organizations focus their energies on telling stories as a lead-up to an ask or financial transaction and neglect to include messaging around supporter identity.

Your messaging should play a dual role: articulate purpose and give voice. Purpose in narrative makes it clear what supporters can do and why they should do it. Voice captures who and what they believe in, in stories that resonate because they see themselves in those stories.

In taking such an approach, we put supporters at the heart of our cause or issue. We show them that they are not alone in their passion and enthusiasm. We enable them to talk to each other about what they have done as a collective (as in the Surfrider example). Such an approach reinforces the beliefs of like-minded people, encourages them to openly share those beliefs, and gives them opportunities and the tools to connect with others.

Calls to action are necessary, of course. But in between appeals, your need to help your supporters maintain their enthusiasm for your cause or issue by speaking to and highlighting those who support it. They're the people who build movements.

Here some examples:

  • "Volunteers registered more than 5,000 new voters in April. This is what we do: We give people a voice to fight for change."
  • "The oceans and beaches are where we live and play, but plastic has pushed us into crisis. We give 10,000 hours each year to cleaning them up."
  • "Each one of us has signed the pledge to change the way we eat and shop for food."

This is how supporters, not your cause or organization, become identified with a cause. Here are a few other tips:

1. Listen to your supporters and then share with them what they told you. You'll never be as effective as you can be if you don't know what motivates your supporters. Listen to what they have to say and then create personas that capture the different motivations of the people who believe in and support your cause (and not just financially). Using those personas, you can then engage them to serve as storytellers on your behalf.

2. Capture and share images of your supporters in all your messaging. Marketing, calls to action, social media activity, and any other type of communications activity should include photos and (when possible) video of a diverse cross-section of your supporters.

3. When you don't have anything new to share, share stories of people engaged in the cause. As you're creating your organization's narrative and voice, be sure to tap into and share the stories of those most deeply committed to and engaged in the cause. You can even combine them with a call to action, but do so sparingly.

By sharing the stories of supporters of the broader cause, you'll be helping to build and sustain the movement even as you're recruiting new people to it. First-person messages from committed individuals that communicate their support for your cause mixed in with stories of the people who have benefited from your work create a powerful connection between what supporters of the cause do, why they do it, and how much change they're making in society. And at the end of the day, that's the bottom line.

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, and lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence.

What's New at Candid (May 2019)

May 30, 2019

Candid logoSpring has been an exciting time here at Candid. Since Foundation Center and GuideStar joined forces, the two organizations have been busy with strategic planning, listening, and sharing, in addition to all the research, trainings, and campaigns we usually do. Here’s a recap of recent goings-on:

Projects Launched

  • We added new data and research to our Peace and Security Funding Index that highlight the diversity of funders and strategies focused on addressing issues of peace and security globally. For the past five years, Candid and the Peace and Security Funders Group have chronicled thousands of grants awarded by hundreds of peace and security funders, shedding light on who and what gets funded in the sector. You can learn more about that work here: peaceandsecurityindex.org.
  • Earlier this month, Candid, along with the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) and the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, launched U.S. Household Disaster Giving in 2017 and 2018 Report, the first comprehensive study of household donations to disasters. The study provides new data on U.S. households' disaster giving and answers many of the questions most often asked about patterns, preferences, and practices related to individuals’ charitable giving for disaster relief efforts.

Data Spotlight

  • Since March, we've been streamlining the process for developing the FC 1000 research set, which we use to track year-over-year trends in philanthropic giving. As part of this work, we're introducing systematic quality assurance checks on the grants data and aiming for a close date (for the 2017 grants set) in early fall. As of April, we've identified ~650 funders (out of an eventual 1,000) for whom we have complete-year grants data, and we've tracked down and outsourced grants lists for a hundred more. For the remaining funders, we'll be looking to the IRS for their grants lists and reaching out directly via email over the coming months.
  • Approximately 70 percent of grantmaking for peace and security issues includes some type of population focus. In 2016, funding for children and youth and women and girls each accounted for 14 percent of total peace and security funding, while funding for refugees and migrants accounted for 8 percent. Learn more at: peaceandsecurityindex.org/populations.

In the News

What We're Excited About

  • Candid Midwest will launch Candid's Nonprofit Startup Assessment Tool (NPSAT) on June 13 in Kansas City, Missouri, with the help of a generous grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The event will include our new course, Is Starting a Nonprofit Right for You?, as well as a demonstration of NPSAT and an Open House featuring our Funding Information Partner, the Kansas City Public Library (central location).
  • Candid South has completed a lease agreement with CARE in Atlanta and will be relocating our staff there in order to better leverage our existing community partnerships. CARE is a global leader in the worldwide movement to end poverty and is known for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of all people. Learn more about Candid South's transition here.
  • Candid's other library resource centers, located in San Francisco, Cleveland, Ohio, and Washington, DC, will be redirecting their in-person library services to local community partners in 2019. On June 20, Candid West will bid adieu to our San Francisco library and office with a Farewell Open House from 5:00-7:00 p.m. Then, sometime after June 217, the Candid West team will be relocating to Oakland to join the remainder of our Bay Area team. You can read more about Candid's plans to expand its outreach into local communities here.
  • On May 22, Candid West officially launched its virtual peer learning circle, Setting Your Development House for Success. We're accepting more participants through the learning circle's next session on June 19, however. Help spread the word! To register, click here.
  • On May 30-31, Candid West will be collaborating with Funding Information Network partner John F. Kennedy University’' Sanford Institute of Philanthropy and local funders and county supervisors to present a two-day convening in East Contra Costa County. The event will focus on the importance of strategies related to achieving a fair and accurate census and will include a capacity-building needs assessment as well as fundraising training.
  • Candid West will once again partner with CCS Fundraising and the Commonwealth Club on June 20 to present "Giving USA: A National and Bay Area Perspective." Historically, this has been one of our best-attended programs, and this year's event promises more of the same.
  • In June, Candid Northeast New York will begin teaching our core curriculum on a monthly basis at our Brooklyn Public Library partner site and will also visit and do public trainings at partner locations in Greenwich, Connecticut; Westerly, Rhode Island; and in Queens and Brooklyn.
  • On June 5, Candid's DC office will lead a contract training on proposal writing at the Glenstone Museum as part of Glenstone's Emerging Museum Professionals program.
  • On June 6 , Candid South will launch its Nonprofit Consultant Cohort, a four-part series, in Atlanta. Sessions will cover how to establish your client criteria and issue area, how to develop a marketing strategy that generates client leads, determining fee structure, and creating a business plan and presentation.
  • On June 6, Candid and Hispanics in Philanthropy will release a new dashboard, LATINXFunders, which illustrates philanthropy’s support for Latinx populations across the U.S. and its territories over a five-year period, 2012-2017.

Upcoming Conferences and Events

It's the season for conferences! Our staff will be attending these upcoming events:

Services Spotlight

  • 40,874 new grants added to Foundation Maps in April, of which 2,034 were made to 1,376 organizations outside the U.S.
  • Foundation Directory Online updates its database daily. Recipient profiles in the database now total more than 800,000.
  • The first-ever meeting of the NYC Grant Professionals Group was held in March. Join us for the second gathering on Friday, June 7. The purpose of the group is to support a community of grant professionals committed to serving the nonprofit community in the New York City metro area. Network and learn from your fellow grant professionals in a warm, engaging setting. Candid will be the host of the group's meetings.
  • New data sharing partners: Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, Ecstra Foundation, Urania C. Sherburne Trust, Helen and Ritter Shumway Foundation, McPherson County Community Foundation, Merancas Foundation, Inc., Permanent Endowment Fund of the Moody Memorial First United Methodist Church, and TCF Foundation. Tell your story through data so we can communicate philanthropy's contribution to making a better world — learn more about our eReporting program.
  • Candid's DC staff presented at the ECDC Refugee Resettlement Conference on May 1 to more than 200 participants from grassroots nonprofit groups across the country. With about forty attendees, our session on identifying prospective funders and using Candid resources was one of the best-attended breakout sessions at the conference.
  • Candid's DC staff also presented on Candid resources and the basics of proposal writing at the University of Maryland's Do Good Institute on May 5. Attendees were mostly graduate students from UMD's Nonprofit Management program and are future (or current) nonprofit staffers or social entrepreneurs.
  • Our lineup of online programs (webinars and self-paced e-learning courses) has attracted more than 10,000 registrations since the beginning of 2019, while over 5,000 people have attended our in-person classes since the beginning of the year.
  • In April, Candid Northeast New York hosted its third annual Nonprofit Formation Fundamentals Bootcamp, featuring a series of five weekly sessions on the essentials of starting a nonprofit organization. The series was produced in partnership with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and the Support Center, and each session reached more than seventy participants, making this year’s event the best-attended iteration of Nonprofit Formation Fundamentals yet.
  • In April, Candid Northeast New York taught a public webinar at our partner location in Andover, Massachusetts, and did staff training at our partner locations in Riverhead, Queens, and Brooklyn. And in May, we did public trainings in Albany, Saratoga Springs, Brooklyn, and Queens. Learn more about our Funding Information Network partners here.
  • New partners:
    • Gary and Mary West Foundation (a group project with our Knowledge Service team)
    • Handbid (new API client)
    • RelPro (new API and data customer)
    • Bloomberg Philanthropies (new API customer)

Content Published

If you found this update helpful, feel free to share it or shoot us an email! I’ll be back next month with another update.

Jen Bokoff is director of stakeholder engagement at Candid.

A Conversation With Mark Zuckerman, President, The Century Foundation

May 29, 2019

For Massachusetts folks of a certain age, the name Filene's Basement evokes memories of a crowded emporium where the hunt for bargains, especially on weekends, often resembled competitive sport. The basement was the brainchild of Edward A. Filene, whose father, William, founded Filene's in 1908. It was Edward, however, who recognized that growing numbers of American factory workers represented a new market and persuaded his father to start selling surplus, overstock, and closeout merchandise in the basement of his flagship Downtown Crossing store.

The experiment was a huge success, and the Filenes soon joined the ranks of America’s wealthiest families. In 1919, Ed Filene, already recognized as a progressive business leader, founded the Co-operative League — later renamed the Twentieth Century Fund — one of the first public policy research institutes in the country.

Mark Zuckerman joined TCF — which changed its name to the Century Foundation in the early 2000s — as president in 2015. A veteran of the Obama administration, where he served as Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council, leading teams on initiatives to reduce student debt, increase accountability at for-profit educational institutions, reduce workplace discrimination, and expand access to job training, and Capitol Hill, where he served as staff director for the House Education and Labor Committee, Zuckerman has worked over the last four years to bring the organization’s research efforts and policy work into the twenty-first century.

PND spoke with Zuckerman recently about some of those changes, the meaning of the 2018 midterm elections, and TCF’s efforts to advance a progressive policy agenda.

Headshot_mark_zuckermanPhilanthropy News Digest: The Century Foundation is marking its hundredth anniversary in 2019. Tell us a bit about Edward Filene, the man who created it back in 1919.

Mark Zuckerman: Ed Filene was a prominent businessman but also somebody who was deeply engaged in public policy, a rare combination in those days. The era in which he was working was a time when there wasn't strong governmental involvement in the economy, and where it was involved, it was too weak to effectively address the economic chal­lenges of the day. Things like workers' wages and benefits, anti-trust enforcement, and a lack of transparency with respect to Wall Street, something that eventually led to passage of the Securities and Exchange Act.

Ed Filene very much believed in more robust engagement by local, state, and the federal government in people's lives. And he felt that research was a linchpin of good public policy. At the time, there were very few think tanks — the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace had been started a year earlier and Brookings had been started two years before that. 

So, the idea of a private entity taking on challenges that, in the past, only government had had sufficient resources to address was something new. Today, of course, there are think tanks all over the world focused on many different subjects, but Ed Filene really was in on the beginning of the think tank movement and on think tanks as places where social policy, progressive social policy in Mr. Filene's case, would be discussed and developed.

Like Henry Ford, he believed that paying a decent wage to your employees was good for the overall economy, and in his writings he expressed support for a mandatory minimum wage. He also gave speeches about the importance of supporting the Roosevelt admin­istration in its attempt to get Congress to pass something that looked a lot like Medicare and urged people to call in their support for initiatives Roosevelt and his brain trust were proposing.

One of the public policy innovations he was most interested in was the credit union movement, and for a specific reason. At the time, the nineteen-thirties, financial institutions mostly were there to lend and cater to businesses and wealthy individuals. There simply was no infra­structure in the United States to provide the middle class — never mind lower-income folks — with capital to buy their first home or even to invest in a small business. Ed Filene viewed credit unions as a critical tool for providing Americans with capital that could help them thrive and grow the middle class. And so he embarked on a major effort, not only at the national level but at the state level, including his own state, Massachusetts, to authorize the creation of credit unions, which sort of makes him the father of the credit union movement.

PND: Let's jump ahead a bit. How does the Century Foundation's work support a progressive policy agenda in 2019? And how has the organization's model evolved over the last hundred years to support that work?

MZ: Well, one of the big changes the Century Foundation went through — and I would say it was in keeping with changes in the way policy was made over the decades — is that it evolved over the years from being essentially a book publisher, which was what it was for decades. Back then, it would engage influential thinkers about specific social policy ideas they wanted to promote in book form. Many of those titles were, of course, written for policy elites, with the idea that these ideas would be circulated and eventually find their way into the halls of Con­gress or onto the floor of state legislatures. It was a common sort of model for academic institutions and emerging think tanks during the mid-twentieth century. But over time, and especially as the Internet became more widely used, the model changed. Today, having influence in or impact on public policy requires a lot more than just having a good idea, and too many of these books end up sitting on shelves, unread. Maybe they're filled with great ideas, but there are fewer and fewer people willing to pull those ideas out of those volumes and turn them into policy.

So, the Century Foundation today is very differ­ent than it was seventy or fifty or even twenty years ago, in that we are taking more responsibility — not only for coming up with creative solutions to today's challenges, but for figuring out how to use the resources we have beyond research and the development of policy ideas to create impact.

That's the big shift — the leveraging of intellectual and advocacy resources and institutional relationships to drive policy change. When I joined TCF as president four years ago, I hired a number of people who had recent experience in the White House or in federal agencies or on Capitol Hill, because I wanted people who understood how best to approach those institutions, and how they could have an impact on those institutions. They were also people with a high level of expertise in their particular subject matter. That's been my focus as president — finding people who know who the policy players in Washington are, who have deep expertise in their subject matter and the ability to do good research, and who have wide, influential networks in the advocacy, policy, and academic communities.

PND: Can you give us an example of how that focus has played out with respect to a specific issue?

MZ: So, the day after Barack Obama's second term in office ended, I hired a woman named Jeanne Lambrew who had been President Obama's top healthcare expert. Jeanne came to the Century Foundation for two years to be a resource to us in our efforts to defend the Affordable Care Act, which was under attack by Republican members of Congress. We felt that healthcare advocates needed to have access to someone who knew the history of the legislation, someone who knew how it was being undermined administratively or could be repealed or compromised in a significant way. And for two years, thanks to our investment, Jeanne did just that, making herself available to people on Capitol Hill who had technical questions or questions about strategy, and laying the groundwork for an in-depth analysis of competing proposals that could serve as the basis of the next generation of healthcare reform. Besides Medicare for All, there are four or five other proposals out there that could serve as the basis for a new and improved version of the Affordable Care Act. And through convenings, conferences, commissions of work, and her own work, Jeanne brought attention to those proposals, which, in my opinion, are going to very much be front and center in the next presi­dential election cycle.

PND: In their book The Liberal Hour, MacKenzie and Weisbrot argue that while civil rights activists, New Left dissidents, and student protesters all played important roles in driving social change in the 1960s, it was "the institutions of national politics, and the politicians and bureaucrats who inhabited them, that produced the social and economic changes that became the deep and enduring legacy of that decade." Do you agree with that?

MZ: I think underlying your question is the question of how much government intervention there should be in the economy. Capitalism has great strengths, but as we know, it also tends to leave a lot of people behind. And I think the debates of the last several decades, to a significant degree, have been about what level of government intervention in the economy is appropriate in terms of making sure that the rich and powerful aren't the only ones with the power to make decisions, aren't the only ones who do well, and that everyone has adequate access to the kinds of resources, whether it's education or housing or healthcare or retirement security, they need to realize their full potential.

The Century Foundation and other progressive institutions will say, unabashedly, that in some cases there needs to be significant intervention by gov­ernment to ensure that all Americans have access to the resources they need to realize their full potential. And, of course, there are people on the right who subscribe to the idea that each of us is on our own, that capitalism creates winners and losers, and that if you're a loser in a capitalist system, well, then, you're a loser and that, moreover, government has no role to play in terms of ensuring that everyone has a shot, that everyone gets to participate in our democracy, and that everyone enjoys the full rights of citizenship.

PND: The freshman class elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2018 midterms includes record numbers of women and people of color. What's your view of what happened in November?

MZ: I think 2018 was one of the most significant midterm elections since 1974, when the first post-Watergate class came in and passed a number of reforms to the way Con­gress does its business, not to mention broader reforms in the economy. In some ways, the 2018 midterms were even more consequential, because of the diversity and energy that the new representatives have brought to Washington. They look a lot more like America looks in 2019, and to my mind they represent what America in the future will look like.

Now, it may take two, four, even ten years to deliver on some of the most progressive ideas that many in this freshman class are pushing and fighting for, but I think they're trying, as a group, to shift where the center is, and that's very important to making progress in public policy — shifting the center of the debate. And I think they're succeeding. As a group, they're expanding the definition of what's possible in terms of government intervention, especially as it relates to the security of the middle class, as well as low-income populations that haven't been given access to the kind of tools and resources and opportunities they need to prosper.

PND: What is the Century Foundation doing in 2019 to advance a progressive agenda in the United States?

MZ: One of the things we're tackling is the college affordability issue. The single most important thing we can do as a country, in my opinion, is to make sure young people have the opportunity to prosper economic­ally, and that simply is not the case right now. There are too many young people who don't have access to a four-year education or even a two-year or vocational education. Or they get to college only to drop out because they don't have the kinds of support, beyond tuition assistance, they need to navigate the college landscape — things like basic living expenses and child care and money for food and transportation. None of that is properly figured into the actual cost of college, and that's a problem, because we have to make it possible for more young people to get the kind of education they're going to need to thrive in the twenty-first century.

So, one of the things we're looking at here at TCF is the idea of debt-free college, with a focus on the kinds of resources and training we can provide to the next generation who are going to college — and who, in many cases, may be the first in their family to go to college. We spend tens of billions of dollars on higher education in this country, and only $5 billion on college-prep training and vocational programs. That's just wrong. And it means we're shortchanging young people who are looking for something other than the traditional college path

None of that is acceptable, and so we're working hard to come up with proposals, especially in the context of federal-state partnerships, that would provide millions of more young people access to college and, when they get to college, make it possible for them not to have to take on backbreaking amounts of debt in order to graduate. I mean, that's just not what the American dream is about. Ultimately, the idea is to have federal-state partnerships that help make college accessible and affordable for every­one, and to invest in alternative tracks like vocational or certificate training for those who feel that that's a better path for them. We have to invest in those individuals as well, and not just people on the four-year college track.

PND: Obviously, there is a lot of anxiety in America about the way the economy has changed and how the nature of work is changing. What is the Century Foundation doing to address those challenges?

MZ: One focus is labor unions. A lot of your readers can recall a time, as recently as the 1970s, when organized labor represented as much as a third of all the people employed in the United States. The simple fact of the matter is that unionization had the effect of preserving good wages and benefits for American workers, and of giving workers bargaining power in their dealings with employers. But in the decades since, we've seen a dramatic decline in union membership in America, especially in private-sector unionization, where today it's only 6 percent of the private-sector workforce. Meanwhile, Congress, for the better part of three decades, has been absolutely stuck in terms of doing what one would like to see it do when it comes to important social legislation, and that is to update and modernize laws already on the books so that they continue to work for the benefit of American workers.

One of the things I wrote about earlier this year concerned the opportunity for the labor movement and its allies to do something that is done in political campaigns, and that, of course, is to promote themselves with modern tech­nology and digital marketing techniques to activists and people who are interested in creating new unions. Technology has been deployed in hundreds of ways and in every area of the economy — whether it's filing your taxes, or booking an airline reservation, or automatically paying a toll with an E-ZPass — to make life easier for the consumer and help individuals work more efficiently. And it's unfortunate that the same technologies have not been marshaled to help people understand their right to form and be part of a labor union.

So what I outlined in my paper is how digital marketing techniques can be used to present the benefits of labor unions to a new generation — a generation, I might add, that is very used to and receptive to these technologies. It gives labor and its allies specific suggestions with respect to how the labor movement could be revived and strengthened because, as I said, it's one of the keys to making the American economy work for all Americans again.

There are also policy changes we need to make, some of which are being discussed at TCF and elsewhere in think-tank land — things like a guaranteed basic income for every American, a higher minimum wage, better overtime protections, an updating of the National Labor Relations Act, putting some teeth into our anti-trust laws, and passing corporate respon­sibility legislation.

All those things — along with better trade policy — play a role in addressing what has become an historic level of inequal­ity in the United States. In the last thirty years, we've seen wages stagnate for the lower quintiles and explode for the very highest quintile. And it's going to take more than one strategy to fix the problem; it's going to take half a dozen strategies to change the trajectory of wage gains for most Americans. If we do nothing, the problem will only get worse, creating greater and greater economic inequality in the country, and posing a real threat to our democracy.

PND: Ed Filene's foundation was an early promoter of public-private partner­ships, and the foundation con­tinues to work very much in that spirit. Over the last forty years or so, however, Americans have been conditioned to believe that government is inefficient and expensive. What can progressives do to change their fellow citizens' view of government and the role it plays in promoting the common weal?

MZ: This is a big chal­lenge for the progressive movement, especially at a time when so many good things have hap­pened in the country with respect to the protection of individual rights. The phenomenon you describe was observed during the debates on the Affordable Care Act, when it wasn't unusual to hear people express the belief that Medicare was a private-sector program. They would slam the Affordable Care Act as a tyrannical federal program and in the next breath say, "And keep your hands off my Medicare," failing completely to make the connection between the two.

So, yes, we face a big challenge around educating people about all the ways in which our investments in the federal government improve their lives, and that those investments have involved decades and decades of hard work aimed at trying to perfect these programs so that they are reliable, efficient, and — no small matter — properly understood and appreciated. Look at Social Security. When it was first proposed, it was bitterly contested and argued about, and for a few years after it was passed into law there were attempts to undermine and repeal it. Eighty years later, it is woven into the fabric of the country — so much so that something like President Bush’s attempt to privatize it was met with massive resistance. By and large, Americans just expect that they're going to get a monthly Social Security check when they reach a certain age, and they don't make the connection between their own reliance on the program and it actually being a big, successful government program that is emblematic of the best of what government can do for them.

Long story short, I think progressives have to do a better job of pointing to the government programs that work and improve people's lives and then make the case that without more interventions in the economy to balance the depredations of global capitalism, they're going to be worse off than they would be with a little more government in their lives. That's what the debate over the last few decades has been about, and it will continue to be what the debate is about for the foreseeable future. Progressives need to fight hard against this philosophy that we're all on our own, and that government is just a big, wasteful bureaucracy with no redeeming value.

That said, I also think it’s important for government to make itself more efficient through the smart use of modern tech­nologies, and to work in a way that is more responsive to individuals who need help. In some cases, that means making more investments in things that it under-invests in, especially K-12 education. That's the challenge for the progressive movement.

PND: What is your take on the new generation of politicians and policy leaders that has emerged in Washington and in state capitals around the country?

MZ: I think it's a fantastic development and the Democratic Party should be very proud of the diversity it represents today, both in terms of people of color and the representation of women. In Congress and in state legislatures across the country, the power structure is more reflective of the citizens it is meant to serve than ever before, and that is essential if our democracy is to thrive.

Beyond that, I think this is a transformative moment in our democracy, and I think this new generation of leaders is already doing a good job of identifying the shortcomings of existing public policy and making it clear what kinds of public policy we need going forward, whether it's universal health care, or action on climate change, or tackling income and wealth inequality. They are successfully engaging the country in these hard-to-solve problems, and they are doing so with specific solutions, in some cases even going around elite power structures and appealing directly to the people. That's probably the only way they will succeed, given the state of our extremely inadequate and counter-productive campaign finance laws.

PND: So, I take it you do not think the United States is a country in decline. If that's not the case, what makes you optimistic about the future?

MZ: No, I don't think we’re in decline, but I do think people are frustrated, because they see we have a set of very big challenges that need to be addressed, and they don't see any evidence that government is willing or able to address them. What they see instead is partisanship and grid­lock, and that causes them to be frustrated.

But what is hopeful about this rising generation is that so many of them are courageous and outspoken and seem to be willing to put their shoulder to the wheel. They are also very clear-eyed about who is blocking progress and the changes that the country wants and needs. Whether it's the Parkland students, or the new generation of legislators in the House who want to open things up and create processes that work better for the American people, or those who think the judiciary needs to be more responsive to ordinary Americans. Whatever the forum, there is this sense, I think, of optimism that new blood can revive our democracy and deliver on its promise — not just for Americans but for the world.

But they need to be sup­ported. That's the reason that the Century Foundation, in honor of our hundredth anniversary this year, launched Next100, a new, independent, and first-of-its-kind pop-up think tank for the next generation of policy leaders. For the next two years, we'll select six emerging policy leaders and give them training, resources, and support to tackle a policy challenge of their choosing, all while providing them full-timed salaried positions and benefits. After we announced Next100 earlier this year, more than seven hundred people applied — from all walks of life and backgrounds, wanting to work on all sorts of challenges. It was an inspiring response to witness, and we just finished interviews and will be announcing the incoming class of leaders in July. Stay tuned.

So that's, in part, what makes me optimistic about the future of America — the next generation of leaders coming up.

Mitch Nauffts

How to Find Your Most Engaged New Board Member

May 23, 2019

Board-meetingThere are nonprofits that enjoy a celebrated status in their communities. Powerful people clamor to be on their boards, and they earn those seats with significant contributions and meaningful introductions. And then there are most nonprofits. Their boards work to attract qualified board candidates but often end up wondering whether they should make do with less.

What are these nonprofits to do? The good news is that it is possible to recruit board members whose commitment to your cause more than balances out their lack of connections or personal wealth.

Now, it doesn't hurt to have a few well-connected (and deep-pocketed) people on your board. But having too many can be a problem. Increasingly, nonprofits are looking to solve the challenge of board member engagement. They struggle with board members who don't do much beyond showing up for meetings, or who write a big check to the organization once a year and then drop out of sight. But when it comes to that long-term project or software integration the organization desperately needs, the one that requires board members willing to do research and outreach until the goal is met? Fuggedaboudit.

For a nonprofit to achieve big wins, it needs the kind of engagement that can only come from board members who are committed supporters of the cause. In other words, don't ignore the benefits of recruiting board members who — regardless of their wallet size — are passionate and energetic. When done well, board recruitment with an eye for passion and enthusiasm usually results in a board that follows through on its assignments, is willing to engage in robust discussion, and does everything in its power to strengthen the organization. Individual gifts often disappear when a board member's term is up. But the programs and internal systems shaped by engaged board members often continue long after they have left the board.

There are other benefits to prioritizing passion when recruiting board members. For one, board membership is a natural way for an organization to listen to and reflect the community or population it serves. And these days, it is essential that a nonprofit have at least a few board members who can speak directly to the needs and perspectives of the people most impacted by its work. If your area of focus is animal welfare, your board should include someone doing animal welfare work. If your focus is homelessness, you should try to find someone who has firsthand experience of or with it. If your organization supports individuals with a specific health condition, you need someone on the board who understands the unique challenges of the population with that condition. Besides being invaluable in terms of informing your organization’s strategies and programs, board members from the communities and/or population you serve also tend to be powerful ambassadors for the work you do.

Okay, so you've done an assessment of the kind of people, in terms of skills and experiences, you still need on your board. How do you find these rockstar board members? Start by asking your most active and committed volunteers. Odds are they know exactly who in the community already supports and is committed to your work. If you have a young professionals board or other non-board member committee, ask them. People who are already giving their time and talent to your organization are more likely to be engaged board members than those who don't. By recruiting from those already on the front lines of your work, you have a better chance of identifying board candidates who truly care about your success and will go the extra distance to help you achieve it.

In the short term, it's great to have board members able to write a nice check and willing to invite a group of friends to do the same once or twice a year. But in many ways, the better board member is the one willing to do the difficult work of positioning your nonprofit as a trusted resource for and friend of the community. Finding those people isn't always easy, so be careful not to fall into the trap of putting "butts in the seats." You'll be much better off having ten engaged, committed, active board members than twenty warm bodies.

Cultivating a strong, engaged board is a never-ending process for a nonprofit. Bit it doesn't always have to be a competition for the wealthiest or best-connected people in your community. By carefully considering candidates' talents and enthusiasm for your cause and keeping an open mind, a well-balanced and committed board is within any nonprofit's reach.

Headshot_Jeb BannerJeb Banner is the founder and CEO of Boardable, a nonprofit board management software provider, as well as two nonprofits, The Speak Easy and Musical Family Tree. He also serves as a board member of United Way of Central Indiana and ProAct Indy.

When It Comes to Reaching Donors, One Size Doesn’t Fit All

May 21, 2019

OnesizedoesnotfitallLet's say you’ve decided it’s time to buy a new pair of jeans. You’re thinking maybe skinny dark jeans or perhaps a light-wash high-rise boot cut. But when you walk in to your favorite store, the sales associate directs you to a table piled high with denim and a sign that reads: ONE SIZE FITS ALL. Um, no. The one-size-fits-all model may work with scarves, but it definitely does not work with blue jeans. Why? Because people’s body types are as diverse as their senses of style. (The Internet literally has hundreds of pages dedicated to breaking down the best style for your body type — seriously, there are algorithms for this stuff.) Your reaction to this abomination, this affront to your unique sense of style and individuality?

You walk out of the store.

Which is why, if you are attempting to engage all your donors in the same exact way, you’re going to see a lot more of them turning their back on your organization than buying what you’re selling.

In 1994, a team of social scientists conducted a study to determine what motivates an individual’s interest in and support for a nonprofit organization. Their research concluded that donors fall into seven distinct groups, which they dubbed "The Seven Faces of Philanthropy" (Maru, Karen & Prince, Russ Alan. Jossey-Bass 1994).

Astonishingly, we tracked down seven donors, one from each category, and asked them what they respond to when it comes to engagement.

Here's what we learned....

Name: REGINA REPAYER

Her motto: "Pay it forward."

Why she gives: Regina was positively affected by a nonprofit when she was a child. Now an adult, she feels a strong sense of obligation to give back to organizations that have missions similar to the one that helped her.

How to approach her: Regina is likely to be moved and motivated by hearing the personal story of an individual whose life was deeply affected by the work of your organization.

How to involve her: Regina might be interested in volunteering with your organization and might even be willing to tell her own story as part of a campaign.

How to thank her: Regina doesn’t want individual attention or recognition, but a handwritten thank-you note is always appreciated.

_____

Name: INGRID INVESTOR

Her motto: "Doing good is good for business."

Why she gives: Ingrid runs a large corporation and understands that partnering with and supporting nonprofits is a good look for her company. She is skilled at cost-benefit analysis and wants to know how her gift to your organization will be used to create the most impact. Just like her stock portfolio, Ingrid diversifies her giving among a range of organizations.

How to approach her: Ingrid wants charts and numbers — data that supports exactly how her gift will be used in the present and will contribute to a better future. She wants to be assured that her gift is not just changing one life, but potentially dozens of lives. And yes, she’d like you to talk with her about ROI.

How to involve her: Show Ingrid you appreciate her business savvy as well as her generosity. Invite her to join your board and finance committee. Solicit her thoughts on scalability. And do your best to persuade her that having her company be a sponsor of your next event is a win-win for both organizations.

How to thank her: Ingrid typically appreciates both public and private acknowledgement of her contributions.

______

Name: SALLY SOCIALITE

Motto: "If it's not fun, you're not doing it right."

Why she gives: Sally has a big heart and free time that she wants to use to make the world a better place — all the better if she can have fun doing it! She has an extensive social network and likes to work with others to create enjoyable ways for people to donate their time, treasure, and talent.

How to approach her: Sally is always looking for ways to burnish her reputation as a philanthropic mover and shaker. So invite her to an event! Make sure she has a good time and meets lots of people. Then follow up with a phone call or a coffee date and ask what she thought about the event. While you’re at it, feature a picture of her at the event in your newsletter or on your social media feed.

How to involve her: Ask Sally if she would be willing to help organizing a future fundraiser or social event — maybe even one at her home. If she’s a good spokesperson for the organization and believes in your cause, you can bet she’ll get her friends to believe in it, too.

How to thank her: Sally desires formal and public recognition of her generosity. Be sure to mention her generosity to others in her social circle.

_____

Name: COLIN COMMUNITARIAN

Motto: "Help others achieve their dreams, and you will achieve yours."

Why he gives: Colin is a local business owner with a strong sense of civic responsibility. He enjoys bringing people together around a common purpose and believes everyone has value and adds value.

How to approach him: Colin knows his community, and he knows there are problems that need solving. Using data-driven research, show Colin that your nonprofit also knows the community and the challenges it faces. Demonstrate that you and your colleagues care deeply and are dedicated to addressing those challenges and need his help to do it.

_____

Name: DEVIN DEVOUT

Motto: "We should feel grateful instead of entitled. We have a moral obligation to give back."

Why he gives: Devin gives because he has a strong belief in the cause and wants to align his efforts on its behalf with like-minded folks.

How to approach him: Devin is an ideal donor because he will unselfishly give everything he can in terms of time, treasure, and talent. But first he needs to establish trust in the leadership and values of your organization. Acknowledge Devin’s commitment to the cause and build his trust with a meaningful encounter with a senior leader at your nonprofit. Recognize that other organizations also are trying to court Devin, and be sure to keep checking in and listening to his hopes and priorities.

How to involve him: Devin is driven by his passion and commitment. You’ve done the leg work to gain his trust; once you have it, involve him as a thought partner.

How to thank him: Devin doesn’t seek public acknowledgement, but he should be thanked privately, personally, and often. When you thank him, consider sharing specific stories about individuals who have been helped thanks to his generosity.

______

Name: ALLIE ALTRUIST

Motto: "If you want to feel good, do good."

Why she gives: Allie gives out of generosity, empathy, and because she feels it is simply the right thing to do. And it feels good!

How to approach her: Allie chooses the nonprofits she supports based on her feelings of empathy and her heartfelt connection to the people involved. She is moved by personal stories of struggle and triumph and wants to know specifically how her assistance will make a difference.

How to engage her: Allie gets joy out of helping others and seeing the results of her assistance. She would welcome hands-on experience working with the community served by your organization. Offer her as many volunteer opportunities and ways to give her time, treasure, and talent as you can.

How to thank her: Allie almost always wishes to remain anonymous.

_____

Name: DINAH DYNAST

Motto: "Tradition simply means we must end what began well and continue what is worth continuing."

Why she gives: Dinah believes that philanthropy is everyone’s responsibility, and she sees it as part of her identity. Dinah’s family has been long-time supporters of many causes, and she very much is interested in carrying on that legacy.

How to approach her: Acknowledge that you understand and appreciate the valuable contributions Dinah’s family has made over the years. Dig into your organization’s history and site specific examples of how her family’s generosity has benefited the community you serve. Dinah is a donor you don’t want to lose, so be sure to give her lots of personal attention.

How to involve her: Dinah believes that giving time is as important as giving money. Ask her to serve on your board or a committee. If it isn’t already, she may also be interested in having her family’s name attached to a program or capital improvement. This can be a delicate conversation, so make sure you’ve thoroughly vetted her interest before broaching it.

How to thank her: Dinah should be thanked publicly, privately, and often.

_____

As you can see, each of these individuals has different philosophies and motivations with respect to their giving, and if you’re looking to maximize their contributions, the last thing you want do is to engage them as if "one size fits all."

Headshot_ashley_watersonAs for the type of jeans they prefer? Stay tuned for our next post.

Ashley Waterson, creative messaging guru at Envision Consulting, has more than ten years' experience crafting content for various platforms, including comedy sketches, NPR features, and websites.

A Conversation With Angelique Power, President, Field Foundation

May 20, 2019

A Chicago native, Angelique Power started her career in philanthropy in the public affairs department of Marshall Field's Department Stores, where she learned about corporate social responsibility and what effective civic engagement in the business world looks like. She went on to serve as program director at the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation and as director of community engagement and communications at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, before being named president of the Field Foundation of Illinois in the summer of 2016.

Since stepping into that role, Power has helped catalyze new ways of thinking about racial equity and social justice at a foundation that has engaged in that kind of work for decades. Under her leadership, the foundation has expanded its relationships with the community-based nonprofits it historically has supported as well as a range of philanthropic partners in Chicago.

Philanthropy News Digest spoke with Power about how the foundation is rethinking its approach to racial equity, its new partnership with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and why she is optimistic about the future.

Heasdhot_angelique_powerPhilanthropy News Digest: The Field Foundation was established in 1940 by Marshall Field III, grandson of the man who founded the Marshall Field’s department store chain. Although the younger Marshall Field worked on Wall Street, he was also a committed New Dealer. What did Field think he could accomplish through the foundation, and what happened to the foundation after his death in 1956?

Angelique Power: As someone who in the day practiced what we refer to today as racial equity and social justice grantmaking, Marshall Field III was a leading financial supporter of Saul Alinsky, the godfather of community organizing. And the Field Foundation in the early '60s was a significant supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King, especially around some of the voter registration campaigns that Dr. King led. It’s always interesting to me to reflect on Field's trajectory, a person who was born into great wealth but who saw the racial inequality in Chicago and nationally and decided to use his resources and his platform as a white man of privilege to effect change in the system.

Marshall Field V is on our board, and I often tell him, "You know, I never met your grandfather, but I have such a crush on him." Marshall Field III was a visionary in the way he thought about democracy and the institutions that hold power accountable in a democracy and how you can support individuals who are working to create change at a systems level. And I'm pretty sure he had all of that in mind when he set up the foundation.

After he passed away in 1956, the foundation was broken up. His widow moved to New York and created the Field Foundation of New York, and his son, Marshall Field IV, stayed in Chicago and created the Field Foundation of Illinois. The Field Foundation of New York spent itself down after twenty years, while the Field Foundation of Illinois is what we today refer to as the Field Foundation. In many ways, I feel like the path we've been on since I arrived three years ago — and going back beyond that to the tenures of the foundation's last few presidents — has been to try to put into action the ideals of Marshall Field III.

PND: You're the third consecutive African American to serve as head of the foundation, and individuals of color comprise a majority of your board. Whom do you credit for ensuring that the leadership of the foundation reflects the community it aims to serve?

AP: In the late 1980s, the Field Foundation made a couple of very interesting and unusual moves for the time. One was adding Milton Davis, an African-American man, to the board. The other was hiring Handy Lindsey, Jr. as president. Handy, who recently retired as president of the Ruth Mott Foundation, is so well respected in the field, both locally and nationally, that for years there was a lecture series named in his honor.

There are a couple of other things about the Field Foundation that make it unique. One, we are not a family foundation, although we do have some family members on our ten-person board, including Marshall Field V, who is a director for life, and two other family members; everyone else is a person of color. And the board has a keen interest in having the foundation operate as a private independent foundation, rather than as a family foundation. Family foundations are great and allocate capital in really interesting ways. But there was a decision early on here at the Field Foundation to put the resources and influence of the foundation in the hands of civic leaders, as opposed to solely family members.

Marshall Field V was instrumental in that decision, and he has never served as board chair. He is also very careful about how he participates in board meetings. I'm talking about a brilliant human being who serves on many boards, who has raised a tremendous amount of money for conservation and arts organizations and other causes, and who understands that his voice carries a lot of weight. He is very intentional in the context of his Field Foundation duties about sharing power, and always has been.

The decision to diversify the center of power at the foundation began in the 1980s, and that's also something I attribute to Marshall Field V. It's because of Marshall that our last two board chairs — including Lyle Logan, who recently stepped down as chair after serving more than ten years in that role — have been persons of color.

According to the D5 coalition, nationally, 14 percent of foundation board members are people of color, while the population of Chicago is 60 percent people of color. Our new board chair, Gloria Castillo, who also serves as CEO of Chicago United, a robust organization of CEOs of color that is working to create a more inclusive business ecosystem in Chicago, is very thoughtful about how leadership should look and operate, and she is absolutely committed to making sure that our organizational culture reflects equity in every sense of the word.

I would also mention Marshall's daughter, Stephanie Field-Harris, who chaired the search committee that selected me and was fiercely committed to speaking to candidates for the job who could come into a situation and not do what most people expected them to do but would be willing to lead an inclusive process that tried to radically re-imagine philanthropy. I credit all those folks, and each of our board and staff members, for making the Field Foundation the special institution it is today.

PND: How has the foundation changed its approach to grantmaking and evaluation since you became president?

AP: I joined the foundation in 2016, and since then we've changed how we fund, who we fund, and how we evaluate our grantmaking. We've even changed the way we look at the function of a foundation.

It all started with a process we initiated in 2016, shortly after I arrived. It was a time in Illinois, and in Chicago in particular, that a lot of us were asking, "What can we do differently?" When I started at the foundation, in July, the state's budget had been frozen for a year. It would remain frozen for another year, which meant that a lot of nonprofits were put on a starvation diet. They were not receiving their usual funding from the state, and they were turning to foundations and the private sector to keep their doors open. At the same time, the city was halfway through what would, because of gun violence, turn out to be the second bloodiest year in its history. The video of the shooting of Laquan McDonald, the African-American teenager who was shot sixteen times by a white police officer, had been released about eight months before I started, and the sense of urgency in the city was palpable.

The Field Foundation had had a history of funding community-based organizations under Handy Lindsey, and that work had continued under the brilliant leadership of Aurie Pennick, who succeeded Handy. We had a thirty-year track record of building deep, trusting relationships with local organizations that didn’t always receive funding from foundations, and that helped lay the groundwork for what followed.

Staff and the board were starting to ask questions about impact and whether our resources were helping to reduce violence in Chicago. But with the number of shootings going through the roof, it was hard to argue that the grants we were making were helping to reduce violence. So staff and board got together to study the problem and possible responses to it. We looked at being both more responsive and more strategic. And we talked about an equitable approach where you focus more on dismantling power dynamics within philanthropy and try to move the needle on questions like, Who gets to establish theories of change? And who gets to decide what success looks like?

Then we took a deep dive into racial justice. The full board — and this is extremely important, in my opinion — as well as staff went through racial justice training. I started that session by reciting a parable I'm sure many of your readers have heard. I'm sure you've heard it:

A woman is walking along a river and all of a sudden sees a baby floating downstream. Alarmed, she jumps into the river to save the baby, only to see another baby floating in her direction, and then another, and another. She saves as many of the babies as she can and starts to panic about how she is going to shelter, feed, clothe, and educate them. All the while, babies keep floating down the river, and she never has a moment to think about heading upstream to find out where all the babies are coming from.

That was really important in helping my board understand the difference between charity and social change work. In the nonprofit sector, writ large, it's the difference between direct service and systemic interventions. If we are standing on the banks of the river, so to speak, and are asking questions like, "Have we helped reduce violence in Chicago?" we really either have to ask ourselves better questions, or, if the answers are unsatisfactory, we need to travel upstream to the source of the problem.

PND: What are the biggest challenges you and your colleagues face in working to advance racial equity in Chicago?

AP: One of the biggest challenges is that nobody knows how to talk about race in mixed company. We are all scared of offending, and we’re all scared of being offended. And most of us have not been given the tools to do it properly. It's really important to engage in training, to have a shared language, and to have the presence of mind to avoid the obvious traps that await everybody when the conversation turns to race.

We also find ourselves in a period when hate crimes are on the rise, and you have this extreme rhetoric coming from the highest office in the land, and you have racism showing up in unexpected places and ways. What's especially difficult is thinking that race conversations are mostly about unpacking individual racism, when in fact you need to be able to identify its influence in policy, and how it shows up in a city budget, and how it shows up in philanthropy, particularly in philanthropy metrics.

PND: Can you give us an example of how it shows up in philanthropy metrics?

AP: Say, you're giving a capacity-building grant to a small ALAANA organization [African/Latinx/Asian/Arab/Native-American organization] and expecting that the organization will use it to build out its board and increase its ability to access working capital. But, as we know, there's a significant racial wealth gap in many of these communities; you won't necessarily find a lot of high-net-worth individuals who are spending their volunteer time sitting on nonprofit boards. That's a metric that's never going to be attainable for a lot of these organizations.

And, yet, lots of studies have been done about the number of people in communities of color who volunteer and about how they give their time and talent and treasure, which they do; it's just in different ways. It doesn't show up in the same format that it does in, say, white, communities. Which means if we have metrics designed to gauge whether ALAANA organizations operate the same way that larger, mostly white organizations do, we are asking the wrong questions.

PND: How did your recent collaboration with the MacArthur Foundation come about, and what is the primary goal of the collaboration?

AP: It's a new chapter for us. We've never had this type of re-granting partnership with a foundation, and it's enabling us to do interesting things that we weren't able to do before, things like giving dollars directly to individuals.

It came about as a result of conversations with different people at MacArthur, which as you know awards hundreds of millions in grants annually and is a global foundation with tremendous reach. And even though MacArthur is headquartered in Chicago, and many of its staff are based here, due to the leadership of the past two presidents, the Field Foundation has extremely deep relationships in the city and a level of trust among nonprofits that we've earned through thirty years of local funding characterized by intentionality and trust building.

When we sat down with the folks at MacArthur, there was an understanding among everyone at the table that there are different kinds of capital — including social and financial capital — and that, collectively, we were all interested in doing something beyond how our respective foundations normally operate. So, we began to unpack the differences in the way we think about our work, and how we could learn from and with each other, and then we tackled the question of how we could do something that is better for the people we serve here in Chicago. We weren't fooling ourselves, thinking that from our positions of privilege we could create transformative solutions to all the major problems in our city. Instead, we asked folks in the nonprofit community to help us design a new giving program — what do journalists and storytellers need? What does philanthropy need to understand and do differently? So now we're rolling out a program designed by journalists and storytellers rather than by us on their behalf. We also heard that nonprofit visionaries need unrestricted capital to further develop their leadership capacity. We are listening and doing our best to respond.

PND: Is the collaboration with MacArthur an example of how the Field Foundation punches above its weight?

AP: We think of ourselves as being in the civic architecture business. Yes, we award grants, and that makes us a conduit to cash, which we try to provide responsibly and respectfully. But like any foundation, we also have a power and privilege that grants us access to many tables, in many different rooms. In some rooms we get to hear the voices of people who are smarter than we are, the nonprofit folks who are doing the actual work. In other rooms, often where decisions about policy or capital are made, those voices are woefully absent. We see our job as changing the architecture of those rooms, so all voices are deciding together.

PND: In recent remarks you made at Northwestern, you analogized diversity, equity, and inclusion work to owning and operating a restaurant. Focusing on diversity, you said, is like giving a handful of new customers a prized table in your restaurant and inviting them to enjoy a meal from a menu that hasn't changed much in years. In the analogy, inclusion is equivalent to checking on the folks you've seated to see how they're enjoying their meal. And equity is about totally re-defining the dining experience by disrupting the power dynamics of the business. Do you think philanthropy needs to be disrupted in order for it to advance racial equity more broadly?

AP: One hundred percent, which is why Winners Take All, by Anand Giridharadas, and Decolonizing Wealth, by Edgar Villanueva, are resonating so much right now. We're living in a time of intensely concentrated wealth and intensely concentrated poverty. At the same time, we're watching the equivalent of modern-day lynchings on our iPhones, we're seeing children torn from their parents and thrown into cages, we're seeing a huge rise in Islamophobia and outright bans on people from certain countries.

Solutions to problems like those cannot be dictated solely by people for whom access to capital is a given. While many of us might have been born on third base and had home plate moved halfway up the line in our direction, we are not in the best position to conceive of the solutions we need to the urgent problems we face. Those solutions need to be designed by folks who have struggled and are more resilient because of that struggle. By folks who have a deep understanding of the problems and who have a vision for their communities. If those people are not at the table with us determining how philanthropic capital is allocated, it means we are wasting resources and diminishing our return on investment.

Right now, the conversation people are having about racial equity is largely about the sharing of power and resources. It is not a conversation about representation. Equity is about changing the default operating system. Do I think philanthropy is a space with well-intentioned, thoughtful people and a tremendous amount of resources? Yes. Do I think it is as accountable to the communities on whose behalf it works as it needs to be? No.

PND: You did an interview with Marshall Field V for StoryCorp in which you mentioned the "unsaid" in the work of philanthropy. What are some of the things that go unsaid in philanthropy?

AP: First of all, that was one of my favorite interviews. I love that he sold encyclopedias door-to-door to learn everything about the businesses he ran. We have it on our website if anyone is interested in hearing more of his story.

But to answer your question about the unsaids in philanthropy, racialized systems and racism are the biggest. We talk a lot about "achievement gaps" and "immigration reform" and "community engagement" and "hard-to-count" populations. But we avoid the word racism, and I think that's because we associate it with people with tiki torches and polo shirts spewing intolerance and hate. As I mentioned earlier, hate crimes in the America are on the rise, and we haven't seen this kind of blatant dog-whistling in decades. But when we attempt to be race agnostic in philanthropy, we ignore how racism is designed. If we can't start with the correct diagnosis — which is that the history of our country is one in which genocidal policies targeting Native peoples were the norm and black people were enslaved for centuries and poor white people were trapped in indentured servitude well into the twentieth century and immigrants from some countries were and are turned away while immigrants from other countries are welcomed — then we will never be able to design solutions that address these problems.

To be honest, I don't think most people understand what we mean when we say "racial equity." People think it's about including a person of color here or there. That's not what we mean. What we are talking about is a rethink. It's about rebuilding systems so that they benefit everyone, and I mean everyone. Often in these conversations we pit communities against each other: urban communities of color versus white rural communities, for example. We need to understand that there are more similarities there than differences.

PND: When you look at where we are as a country, where we've been, and where we're headed, can you say that you are optimistic?

AP: I am an optimistic person by nature. While I believe one can and should be skeptical of systems, especially entrenched systems, I think you have to be optimistic because those systems, at the end of the day, are controlled by and can be changed by people. Today, more than ever maybe, people are desperate for connection and to be understood. We long to belong to something bigger than ourselves, to let our bravest selves shine through. People are awake. There are more women in Congress than at any other time in our history, we have our first black openly gay female mayor in Chicago, and people across the country, from every walk of life, are getting involved, joining school boards and running for city council and working to turn out the vote.

So, I am optimistic, extremely optimistic, that by shifting the allocation of power and resources we will go much further, much faster, toward designing the solutions the country desperately needs. And we will be a better country for it.

— Matt Sinclair

Trends and Transitions in Education Reform and Philanthropy

May 13, 2019

Philantopic_denver_public_schoolsA few months ago, Susana Cordova, the new superintendent of Denver Public Schools, released her one-hundred-day entry plan. Having survived a divisive selection process and a difficult teacher strike at the beginning of her tenure, Cordova took a moment to ask the question: "What does it take to ensure that every child in our city thrives?"

With the release of her plan, she has put forth a vision that includes students, families, and staff working together to ensure that students do exactly that, with an emphasis on the need for her administration to reach out with new and intentional modes of engagement that ensure inclusion of all members of the community.

After reading the plan — and with Cordova's commitment to families front and center — my lingering question for Denver's education eco-space is whether the philanthropic community is willing to get behind community empowerment and advocacy as part of the solution. In order to do that, funders will need to be less prescriptive of the solution and more authentically responsive to what families say are their most critical needs.

Recently, Grantmakers for Education released its Trends in Education Philanthropy Benchmarking Surveywhich takes the pulse of and tracks trends in national education philanthropy. The results reflect a number of changes in education philanthropy, including a greater focus on the "whole learner," as well as deeper investments in postsecondary education and workforce career readiness. A notable finding of the report is that among respondents to the survey, more than 60 percent provided funding for community and family engagement, and many anticipate growth in those investments over the next two years. The report also notes that among the factors or trends funders identified as having the greatest potential impact, engagement with learners' families ranked near the top, while a number of respondents emphasized the role of community organizing in driving and sustaining local school system change.

For more than ten years, a group of local Denver funders — now known as the Colorado Education Organizing (CEO) Funders Collaborative — have worked together to help sustain the education organizing community in our region. As a  group, we  share the view: 1) that foundations have the power to either validate or legitimize entire fields of work due to philanthropy's outsized power and influence; 2) that collaboration among funders can foster and incentivize collaboration among grantees; and 3) that districts and schools often fail to develop a clear vision that permanently places families and students at the decision-making table. Our grantmaking focuses on involving communities of color and communities who are living in poverty to help determine solutions, instead of funders telling communities what they need.

Three years ago, Rose Community Foundation launched Climb Higher Colorado to create a bridge between grassroots and "grasstops" organizing and high-impact family engagement strategies. Both the CEO Funders Collaborative and Climb Higher are thriving, but the reality is that not all funders, in Denver or nationally, view community engagement and family engagement as key to changing educational outcomes. Even more truthfully, many funders are uncomfortable with the notion that communities should bring solutions to us, rather than the other way around.

The Benchmarking Survey highlights the important and difficult question: "How will we navigate the challenge of sharing power with those who have historically had little, especially on occasions when their ideas differ from our own?" Which foundations have the appetite for and courage to take that risk? The Denver education environment is changing. Many school districts locally and across the country are experiencing strategy changes with new leaders. Many local funders — including Rose Community Foundation — are in the process of determining how we must evolve, deepen, and in some cases pivot from our current path.

Philantopic_headshot_janet_lopezWhat we hope emerges from this era of change is greater willingness among education funders and those in power to enable local communities drive and shape their own education systems.

Janet Lopez is a senior program officer for education at Rose Community Foundation, where she works to help all children achieve academic success in the K-12 public school system.

Weekend Link Roundup (May 11-12, 2019)

May 12, 2019

0510_flooding_CNNA weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Communications/Marketing

There’s been an email marketing paradigm shift in the nonprofit sector, writes Caroline Fothergill on the npEngage site. Whereas the size of a list used to be all that mattered, "collectively [we've] come to realize the value of quality over quantity." Today, open and click rates are where it's at, and Fothergill shares some practical advice designed to help nonprofits improve their results in both areas.

Criminal Justice

"As a person who uses drugs," writes Louise Vincent on the Open Society Foundation's Voices blog, "I know that no one person is to blame. What is responsible for the hundreds of thousands of deaths from drug overdose is a broken drug policy, a system that prioritizes punishment over treatment, and a culture of prohibition that leads us to use drugs alone and in shame." 

Health

What does it take to build fair opportunities for health in rural communities? On the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Culture of Health blog, Whitney Kimball Coe,  coordinator of the National Rural Assembly, a movement geared toward building better policy and greater opportunity across the country, shares some of the lessons she has learned in her work.

Book reading has been declining for decades, and language and communications experts are concerned. Markheim Heid, a health and lifestyle writer, takes a closer look at the research — and the implications for society.

Higher Education

It's time to shift the social contract of education away from short-term job training toward long-term development, writes David M. Perry, a former professor of history, on the Pacific Standard site. And free college has to be part of that shift.

In The Atlantic, Tom Nichols, author of the Death of Expertise, argues that the idea that students on college campuses should have "a say in the hiring and firing of faculty whose views they merely happen not to like...is a dangerous development — a triple threat to free speech, to the education of future citizens, and to the value of a college education." Readers of Nichols' article respond.

On the Charity Navigator blog, Emily B. Tyree, associate director of communications at Action Against Hunger, shares three ways mothers in developing countries are finding ways to deal with hunger and food insecurity and making a critical difference for their children and  communities.

Nonprofits

"[T]he lack [of resources] from which the nonprofit sector suffers is...a mindset," argues Nell Edgington. "But a mindset that can be overcome."

Lots of good posts on the the GuideStar blog. Be sure to check out "What Does It Take to Be Happy at Work?" by Nadia Elboubkri and Ruby Johnson; "Boost Your Fundraising by Centering Your Audience in Your Content and Engagement Strategy" by Brad (Schenck) Caldana; and "Fundraising Lessons from Freddie Mercury & Queen" by Barbara O'Reilly.

How is the nonprofit sector like Game of Thrones? Nonprofit AF's Vu Le explains.

Philanthropy

On the Heron Foundation blog, Jasmine McGhee, a communications associate at the foundation, chats with Mary Jo Mullan, who wore many hats at the foundation from 1992 to 2009, about why philanthropies should place general operating support front and center in their grantmaking strategies.

Pam Foster, a lawyer and strategic operations specialist with more than twenty years' experience in the philanthropic sector, looks at the growing field of collaborative philanthropy in a post on the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog and explains how collaboratives can help new grantmaking organizations benefit from lessons learned by those who preceded them.

On Glasspockets' Transparency Talk blog, Genevieve Boutilier, a program associate at the Peace and Security Funders Group, suggests that "simply understanding who and what gets funded is only the start of the conversation" and that without more timely, detailed data, the sector will never be able to answer "tough questions...like: Why are certain regions, issues, and strategies underfunded? Why are certain populations prioritized over others? Why isn't awarding general operating support increasing, especially given the ample evidence that suggests that it’s a best practice? Why are certain kinds of grantees passed over for funding?"

And in the latest issue of Town & Country, Melinda Gates talks to activist and entertainer John Legend about about giving, her family, and her plans to change the world.

(Photo credit: CNN)

That's it for this week. Got something you'd like to share? Drop us a note at mfn@foundationcenter.org

Philanthropy Has Changed How It Talks — But Not Its Grantmaking — in the Decade Since NCRP's 'Criteria' Was Released

May 10, 2019

Ncrp-image-1-234x300It's been ten years since NCRP released Criteria for Philanthropy at Its Best. As I reflect on the animated response to the report, I'm struck by how far the sector has come since 2009 — and, paradoxically, by how little has changed.

Our decision to publish Criteria was, shall we say, controversial. That NCRP had the temerity to assert that any set of criteria be applied to the field of philanthropy, let alone criteria grounded in our belief that grantmakers needed to prioritize marginalized communities and support grassroots-led problem solving to address the systemic inequities and injustices confronting communities in America every day, had more than a few people aghast.

Here's a sampling of the some of the pushback:

"[NCRP's] hierarchy of ends is breathtakingly arrogant." — Paul Brest, former president, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, in the Huffington Post, 2009

"We reject the use of a single template to promote effective philanthropy." — Steve Gunderson, former president, Council on Foundations, 2009

"In the NCRP worldview, philanthropic freedom is not only at risk, it's an oxymoron." — Heather Higgins, former VP, Philanthropy Roundtable, in Forbes, 2009

Criteria earned NCRP new fans and more than a few critics. But when I consider the many books published in the last few years that have been critical of the field, I'm pretty sure that if we released the report today, few would bat an eyelash.

What's changed?

Criteria for Philanthropy at Its Best: At A Glance

Criteria offered the following aspirational goals for grantmakers looking to maximize their impact in the world:

Criterion I: Values

...contributes to a strong, participatory democracy that engages all communities.

a) Provides at least 50% of its grant dollars to benefit lower-income communities, communities of color, and other marginalized groups, broadly defined.

b) Provides at least 25% of its grant dollars for advocacy, organizing, and civic engagement to promote equity, opportunity, and justice in our society.

Criterion II: Effectiveness

...invests in the health, growth, and effectiveness of its nonprofit partners.

a) Provides at least 50% of its grant dollars for general operating support.

b) Provides at least 50% of its grant dollars as multiyear grants.

c) Ensures that the time to apply for and report on the grant is commensurate with grant size.

Criterion III: Ethics

...demonstrates accountability and transparency to the public, its grantees, and constituents.

a) Maintains an engaged board of at least five people who include among them a diversity of perspectives — including those of the communities it serves — and who serve without compensation.

b) Maintains policies and practices that support ethical behavior.

c) Discloses information freely.

Criterion IV: Commitment

...engages a substantial portion of its financial assets in pursuit of its mission.

a) Pays out at least 6% of its assets annually in grants.

b) Invests at least 25% of its assets in ways that support its mission.

 

Philanthropic sector discourse has come a long way in the last decade

It has become commonplace for foundation staff to talk publicly about trusting grantees with long-term general support, investing in marginalized communities, and funding structural change.

An ecosystem of philanthropic support organizations devoted to spotlighting the unique needs of marginalized people has flourished with the help of foundation funding.

Equity, justice, and even power have become watchwords for an ascendant progressive philanthropy that is happy to speak openly in the digital pages of sector publications and the well-lit stages of the conference circuit about the kinds of values Criteria for Philanthropy at Its Best embodies.

The core idea expressed in the publication — that foundations should be held to a higher standard of equity and community impact — has moved from the margins of sectoral discourse to its center.

The bottom line: The money didn't follow

NCRP's analysis of Candid data shows that the share of domestic foundation giving by the country's one thousand largest foundations for the intentional benefit of marginalized people — a category that, statistically speaking, includes most of the country — inched up from 28 percent to 33 percent between 2009 and 2015.

What do we mean by "marginalized communities"?

There are populations that experience disparities, are politically disenfranchised, or are otherwise marginalized by those with more power and privilege. Funders may use other terms such as "disadvantaged," "vulnerable," "at-risk," "underserved," or "underresourced."

NCRP's definition is intentionally broad and includes (but is not limited to) eleven of the special populations tracked by Candid — i.e., economically disadvantaged; racial or ethnic minorities; women and girls; people with AIDS; people with disabilities; aging, elderly and senior citizens; immigrants and refugees; crime/abuse victims; incarcerated and formerly incarcerated; single parents and LGBTQ citizens.

 

Over the same period, foundation support for structural change strategies, the work that truly transforms systems of deprivation and injustice, declined to less than 10 percent.

And general support grantmaking has remained flat at around 20 percent of domestic giving.

Some notable funders stepping up

A handful of innovative, courageous institutions have deeply transformed the way they make grants, and many of those with the least wealth and power in this country are better for it.

  • The California Endowment, once a skeptic about funding advocacy, is now a field leader as it pursues its mission to expand access to affordable, quality health care for marginalized Californians.
    In 2003, 17 percent of the foundation’s grantmaking was for social justice work. In 2015, that number had jumped to 73 percent.

  • The NoVo Foundation has accelerated institutional change in support of marginalized communities and social justice.
    In 2004, 31 percent of the foundation’s grantmaking supported marginalized communities and 14 percent went to social justice causes. By 2015, 100 percent of NoVo's grantmaking supported social justice for women and girls, Indigenous communities, and other marginalized people.

  • The Bush Foundation stepped up its efforts to make Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota better places to live for all residents, including members of the twenty-three Native nations in the three-state region.
    Between 2003 and 2015, the foundation increased the share of its grantmaking that benefits the region's marginalized communities from 39 percent to 83 percent.

  • The Weingart Foundation has made a public commitment to funding equity efforts in Southern California.
    Between 2003 and 2015, the foundation’s support for marginalized communities increased from 41 percent to 76 percent of its grantmaking. And in 2016, the foundation announced "a long-term commitment to base all of our policy and program decisions on achieving the goal to advance fairness, inclusion, and opportunity for all Southern Californians — especially those communities hit hardest by persistent poverty."

While the above examples can be considered clear signs of progress, the data and my own observations of the sector suggest that while the majority of foundations have grown comfortable with the language and concepts embodied in Criteria, not much has changed.

A shift in philanthropic rhetoric is a necessary first step toward a more just and equitable sector. But without accompanying actions, the words ring hollow.

Two lessons for changing philanthropic norms and practices

NCRP's board, staff, and allies firmly believe that now is the time for grantmakers to walk the talk. Our democracy is increasingly threatened by growing economic inequality, political disenfranchisement, and the resurgence of white nationalist rhetoric and violence.

We have had deep, reflective conversations among ourselves about how to get the sector to take action and have identified two takeaways that will inform our strategies in the years ahead:

1. Social movements — people power — are the best hope for changing the way money and power moves in philanthropy. Mass movements, from labor to civil rights to LGBTQ rights, have wrought the deepest transformations in American society — and the philanthropic sector has been similarly shaped, at least in part, by those societal shifts.

Through our nonprofit membership program, we've renewed our focus on building a vibrant community of grassroots nonprofit organizations eager to advocate for foundations to support their rhetoric with their resources.

A few weeks ago, we launched the Movement Investment Project, which articulates new data, new norms, and a new vision for how foundations and donors can and should relate to and support social movements, grounded in the experience, needs, and knowledge of grantee leaders on the frontlines of those movements.

2. Unless the philanthropic sector reckons with its power, grantmaking is unlikely to change for the better. The concentration of resources and certain kinds of expertise at foundations lends them significant power in the broader social sector. That concentration of power will continue to be an impediment to systemic change to grantmaking trends until foundations choose to build power among their grantees, share power with communities, and wield their power, in the form of their social and political capital, to benefit marginalized people.

If you're a foundation leader comfortable with the language of equity and justice, I hope you'll be inspired to take a hard look at your grantmaking through the lens of NCRP's Power Moves toolkit, or resources such as:

Pop the hood, do a deep dive into the data, and ask yourself whether your current reality matches your rhetoric.

In times of crisis, it can be challenging to think beyond the daily headlines. But consider your legacy: In a decade or two, when you look back on this time, a time when the fate of American democracy — indeed, the fate of many species, including our own — seemed uncertain, what do you hope to be able to say about your work?

Headshot_aaron_dorfman_finalNow is not the time for business as usual. The philanthropic community has a significant amount of money and power at its disposal. It is time to start using it to support grassroots social movements.

Aaron Dorfman is president and CEO of NCRP.

Design Therapy for the Purpose-Driven Organization

May 08, 2019

Branding_Alpha Stock ImagesThe value of brand design for nonprofits or foundations — when done right — is not just in the outcome but in the process. Design is the act of (re)imagining how we see and communicate ideas. It's an opportunity to challenge assumptions, change minds, and test the status quo. Brand design, in particular, is rife with such opportunities and, of course, potential landmines. For organizations that are prepared to embark on the adventure, it can be transformative in unexpected ways. At its best, a brand redesign can reinforce and strengthen an organization's work, increase its engagement with internal and external audiences, and pave the way for real growth.

Clarity, Meet Beauty

Branding is the process of figuring out the clearest, truest manifestation of who you are as an organization through words, images, and graphics. A great brand elucidates the "who" (people and ethos) and the "why" (purpose) succinctly and clearly. And the process of getting to a great brand typically starts with a design firm gathering as much qualitative data as it can about your organization.

By data, I mean the perspectives of internal and external stakeholders; an operational values assessment; deep dives into strategic business goals, personality drivers, competitive landscape, and positioning; and audience identification. It's similar in these respects to how an organization would approach a strategic planning process.

All the insights are then distilled into a strategy that highlights key elements such as organizational personality, values, and market differentiation. This strategy guides the creation of new messaging, tagline, logo, website, and so on.

So, what's the big deal? It seems pretty straightforward.

Branding in the for-profit world is often defined in marketing terms: name recognition and consistency leading to monetary transactions and customer loyalty. Starbucks' ubiquitous global brand presence is based on and contributes to a standardization of its customers' experience. People recognize the brand immediately and know what they are going to get.

Qualitative insights, strategizing, and collateral creation are elements of any good branding process, but the real key to a stellar nonprofit brand is activation of the "purpose" driver. A successful nonprofit brand boldly states what the organization delivers and establishes a recognizable identity through the compelling expression of the organization's core mission — both visually and via messaging. It shares the "awareness" goal of for-profit branding but emphasizes mission.

Let me give you an example. When we were first approached by the Oregon Community Foundation, the organization's identity fell short of expressing its mission and incredible legacy as Oregon's largest foundation. Over the months that followed, we led the foundation through a full rebrand which resulted in a new identity system that conveys the foundation's personality (steadfast, optimistic, approachable) and approach to its work of bringing together Oregonians to create real, community-driven impact.

Change Requires Courage

The process of reimagining an organizational identity can produce both excitement and fear. Going through a rebranding process means holding up a mirror to your organization — and yourself. What you see sometimes can be disconcerting. Often, people realize that their own vision for the organization hasn't been aligned with the organization's goals, or there may be disagreement among colleagues about who gets to define what the organization is and should be.

We started using the term "design therapy" with our clients to prepare them for what they're likely to experience. Undertaking a rebranding project requires courage, patience, and a lot of effort. Any therapeutic process includes some discomfort on the road to success. Whether it's recovering from a torn muscle, processing a momentous life event, or rebranding an organization, therapy involves grappling with, ironing out, and coming to terms with hard truths — and eventually making breakthroughs and arriving at compromises that serve the greater good.

A good agency comes to this work prepared to be a guide and with real empathy and understanding for the challenges that lie ahead. Every project presents a different mix of personalities, history, mission and culture. Inviting clients into the design process builds trust, transparency, and ultimately a powerful partnership that helps organizations embrace the uncertainty inherent in the process.

The real bottom line of any nonprofit branding process, however, is the collective nature of the work. Securing equitable stakeholder buy-in from the executive team, program leaders, and the board from the very beginning ensures that team members have a chance early on to weigh in.

Bringing these (oftentimes) disparate viewpoints into alignment via the branding process usually results in a renewed sense of engagement and belonging for all. Through the work, staff and leadership gain a renewed appreciation for the potential of the organization and are invigorated by it.

The process often results in a transformational shift in the organization's culture that leads staff to see the revived brand as a platform for deeper audience engagement and growth, as well as the "why" behind their commitment to the work. Only then can designers reimagine the visual elements of the brand in ways that capture the organization's aspirations for the future, creating resonance with internal and external audiences for year to come.

When executed well, a brand redesign helps your target audiences better understand what your organization is and does and will have them thinking: "I want to be part of that."

The rest is up to you.

Philantopic_headshot_Talie-Smith copy

(Image credit: Alpha Stock Images)

Talie Smith is a partner and creative director at Smith & Connors, where she draws on her background in visual design, literature, and foundation work to help organizations understand who they are and express their identity through brand, web design, and compelling user experiences.

 

How Foundations Are Transforming Risk Into Opportunity

May 06, 2019

At the downtown Los Angeles office of Southern California Grantmakers, dozens of leading thinkers from philanthropic organizations recently gathered for a Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors' "Theory of the Foundation Seminar." The lively discussion addressed philanthropic time horizons, ways to achieve greater operational effectiveness, and driving strategic impact.

Eventually, the conversation turned to risk: the multitude of risks associated with operating in a world increasingly characterized by growing instability and need; and the importance of taking and absorbing risk as a philanthropic actor. Underlying the conversation were a number of current global trends, including:

  • growing populism and socio-political instability;
  • a backlash against private philanthropy in part based on the belief that the growing concentration of wealth is a main contributor to societal problems;
  • the expansion of what philanthropy entails to include impact investing; and
  • a renewed interest in advocacy, capital aggregation, and partnerships in philanthropy.

As the discussion revealed, risk is often believed to be innate to philanthropy, deeply tied to the sense that a philanthropist should also be an innovator, and that philanthropic giving is synonymous with risk capital. Many philanthropic organizations with sizable resources (both financial and non-financial) and the will to confront global challenges welcome this idea — in theory. In reality, however, many see risk as a barrier to strategic philanthropic giving. In part, this is because the meaning of risk itself isn't always adequately unpacked across programs, governance, and staff. As one attendee stated, "We are using the word 'risk' as if we all...agree on its meaning, but we…are not all using it the same way."

To overcome this lack of clarity, donors need to develop a clear strategy around risk. This first requires an understanding of the different types of risk and an awareness of their sources and triggers. The next step is to define specific risks for the donor or community served, as well as the sector at large, as well as methods and remedies for mitigation. Based on discussion at the seminar, generally agreed-upon types of risk fall into six main categories.

  1. Investment/Financial Risk: potential financial loss and uncertainty of "return" when engaging in economic development of communities, impact investing, or investing in a new field or project.
  2. Operational Risk: potential financial or social loss resulting from insufficient or failed human resources, procedures, systems, or policies.
  3. Grantmaking Risk: potential failure of grants, particularly when granting to new issues or people with little track record or history.
  4. Political Risk: potential adverse impact of policies, governmental decisions, political events, or conditions.
  5. Reputational Risk: damage to an organization's reputation through action deemed controversial or politically sensitive.
  6. Innovation Risk: potential failure when adopting, supporting, or creating new approaches, solutions, or technologies.

These risk types are interwoven through a range of risk determinants, influences, and considerations, which can include:

  1. time-horizon: the philanthropic lifespan of an organization, whether limited or in perpetuity, impacts intrinsic risk tolerance, as well as other related considerations including donor intent, collaboration, and resource allocation.
  2. organizational culture and values: the values and culture of an organization playa a key role in shaping its organizational approach to risk, as well as levels of risk-aversion or risk-taking among its individual staff members. 
  3. social bias vs. diversity, equity, and inclusion: the internal biases projected toward marginalized social groups can influence to whom philanthropic organizations give grants, who they employ, and the voices they seek to amplify. In many cases, organizations committed to DEI internally as well as externally will act to balance the social biases that make them risk-averse.

There was broad consensus in the room that foundations should not shy away from risk. Indeed, a better solution to enhance strategic effectiveness and impact is to address it head-on. Actionable suggestions to mitigate risk included:

  • collaborating with like-minded partners to build legitimacy and increase opportunity;
  • encouraging an internal culture of experimentation and failure;
  • explicitly devoting a designated percentage of funds or funding to higher-risk activities or investments;
  • allocating discretionary funds to risky investments;
  • building trust with the communities being served;
  • shifting hiring practices to recruit staff representative of the communities served, and with skills and knowledge to effectively address risk; and
  • creating and sharing knowledge around risk.

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Within each organization, there are risk takers or owners of the various types and levels of risks outlined above. The risk takers include: 

  • philanthropies and funders
  • leaders (i.e., CEOs, executive directors)
  • staff (i.e., program officers)
  • grantees and communities served

While each of these groups absorbs a different form of risk depending on the role they play in decision-making and the philanthropic funding cycle, they, too, are impacted by the risk determinants noted above. Moreover, some groups —particularly Funders and Leaders — bear responsibility for all or most risk types. Accordingly, it falls to them to actively work to define each type of risk, develop strategies, and advance solutions designed to minimize the identified risks.

Philanthropic organizations are uniquely positioned to embrace risk and identify solutions to the world's most pressing challenges. This includes taking part in more conversations around risk and viewing failure as a learning opportunity, building an a knowledge sharing ecosystem of peers and practitioners, and taking on risk collaboratively. As one attendee noted, "Risk is about being more nimble, more reactive to the environment, and creating a platform that allows for transformation to happen, and it is the work of foundations to keep pushing these things forward."

Kalyah_olga_2Olga Tarasov is director, knowledge development at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, where she oversees and advances research, publications, and both internal and external programs. She previously worked at the National Endowment for Democracy and also has served as a spokesperson on issues affecting the region and the field of international philanthropy. 

Kalyah Ford is a senior researcher at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Kalyah previously worked as a research and policy specialist with the World Bank Group, and drove advocacy communications at Human Rights First, developed public diplomacy policy at the United States Department of State, and worked as the Research Lead on a pan-African study for the Open Society Foundations West Africa Initiative (OSIWA).

The Privilege and Peril of Becoming a Foundation CEO

May 02, 2019

GettyImages-612396272-v2-compressorThe occasion of recruiting and hiring a new CEO presents an important opportunity for members of the board to collectively reflect on the unique challenges entailed in the leadership of a private foundation. While professional search firms usually have a profile in mind in terms of what constitutes an appropriate CEO candidate, in many ways the CEO role at a foundation is not a typical CEO position. To truly do justice to the position, the leader of a foundation should not only be able to articulate a vision, inspire confidence, and exemplify other classic qualities of leadership, s/he should also have the strength of character to manifest the unique values that characterize philanthropy at its best.

CEOs of grantmaking foundations occupy positions of immense privilege. They control access to significant sums of flexible capital and, for all intents and purposes, are accountable only to their boards. Typically, they have a significant amount of autonomy in how they choose to define their role, and it's not uncommon for a CEO to exert significant personal influence over the foundation's strategic priorities and grantmaking practices. For some boards, that equates to dynamic, visionary leadership. But there are potential pitfalls in the exercise of that privilege, and they can be damaging to the ultimate effectiveness of the institution. With the caveat that more than one of these traits often is evident in a single person, here are a few we've observed.

The CEO as Pundit

Compounding the significant privilege inherent in the CEO role is the likelihood that a foundation CEO will receive a daily shower of affirmation for his/her irreproachable wisdom and vision. To be susceptible to constant flattery is human. But unless the CEO makes a special effort to remain grounded, it's all too easy for him/her to succumb to the countless ego-gratifying opportunities to pontificate and exercise inappropriate personal influence over the agenda and daily operations of the foundation.

Internally, that can take the form of exercising an extreme form of control over every aspect of the foundation's work. Externally, a CEO may begin to feel the position qualifies him/her to offer regular opinions on the direction in which society should be moving, or even that the world of public affairs can uniquely benefit from the leadership of someone who is not beholden to the political process or company shareholders. Obviously, there is a role for foundation CEOs to speak out on issues of importance to their foundations, but it should be done in a thoughtful and intentional fashion that minimizes self-aggrandizement.

The CEO as Culture Weaver

Particularly if the CEO is embedded in a large organization, it's easy to misjudge and underestimate the unique internal management role s/he is expected to play within a foundation. Most foundations have a relatively small staff and embody something more akin to the culture of a family rather than an impersonal bureaucratized structure. That kind of culture calls for a leader who is aware of the critical importance of "soft skills" and is committed to a personalized approach to management.

Foundation CEOs also have a critical role to play in orchestrating the work of the staff. They are the one person in the organization that is uniquely situated to see the big picture and empowered to operate from that perspective. Finding the right balance in that role is a critical leadership success factor. Asking the right questions at the right time, guiding rather than controlling, and pushing for an appropriate synthesis of competing interests and ideas are essential aspects of the CEO role.

Rather than adopting a stereotypical "academic" style of leadership that by necessity cedes a high degree of autonomy to deans and departments, successful foundation CEOs should play a more integrative role, respecting and nurturing the talents of staff but also assertively articulating incentives for and the boundaries of effective cross-department collaboration that benefits the entire institution.

Above all, the CEO should take responsibility for focusing the foundation's attention and resources on opportunities within its field(s) of interest that are actionable. It takes special skill to translate compelling data and expert knowledge into a plan of action that effectively capitalizes on a foundation's unique strengths, and it takes real discernment to recognize where and how to creatively utilize the foundation's capacity for influence and maximum leverage.

The CEO as Wrangler

When it comes to dealing with the board, newly-minted CEOs display a tendency to demonstrate their leadership by asserting their point of view on every issue. Some even think that the best way to truly establish their authority is to ignore (or even disparage) the achievements of previous leaders. In the name of decisiveness, new CEOs also may feel compelled to move quickly to put their stamp on the organization and apply their spurs, as it were, to jolt their new mount into action.

In any truly mission-driven organization, however, recognizing and valuing the importance of the existing web of human relationships is another key leadership success factor. A new CEO's instinct may be to be seen as a doer able to quickly take charge. But, often, a more productive approach is to take the time to fully appreciate the talents and capabilities of current staff and observe and ask questions in order to capitalize on the strengths of the organization's existing culture before trying to introduce significant changes.

Particularly if a new CEO comes from a government or university setting and has little prior experience in working with a board of directors, it's essential that s/he invest the time and effort at the beginning of his/her tenure to understand and clarify the CEO role. No matter how much experience s/he might have in other management roles, being CEO is a qualitatively different kind of challenge. It's a role subject to ambiguity and hinges on one's ability to understand and appreciate nuance. It requires lots of intentional work to be sure everyone has a clear understanding of their respective roles, responsibilities, and organizational boundaries. Not devoting sufficient time or energy to those conversations at the outset is likely to set the stage for ongoing misunderstandings and associated difficulties.

It's also possible to overdo the listening. Foundations are notorious for taking as much as a year off from their grantmaking to think through the next phase of their evolution. The arrival of a new CEO frequently is the stimulus for a top-to-bottom assessment of a foundation's operations. Often, however, such a pause is perceived by the grantseeking public as self-indulgent and rarely of enough benefit to warrant the time and resources expended on it. Instead, it's important for new foundation CEOs to acknowledge and capitalize on whatever positive momentum they have inherited and to continue to move the herd forward while committing to learning and making appropriate adjustments in strategy and personnel along the way.

When and if the time comes to make changes in personnel, how those transitions are handled is of critical importance. Particularly if a program staff person has been part of the organization for some time, they are likely to have developed constituencies across the foundation's field(s) of interest. Organized philanthropy is a relatively tight-knit community: how people are treated by a new CEO can have significant ramifications for the reputation of the organization among its peers.

The CEO as Expert

Foundations tend to hire CEOs who are acknowledged experts in their areas of grantmaking. By that, we mean experts in the subject matter of greatest interest to the foundation. Often, experience in philanthropy itself is of secondary importance. There's a widespread belief that the era of the generalist is past, and that the future of foundations is best shaped by specialists.

Paradoxically, there can be unanticipated consequences to hiring a specialist as CEO that are not always to the benefit of the foundation. Experts tend to come with fully formed opinions about the most effective strategies to pursue. They have established networks of colleagues and may not be particularly open to expanding those networks. After all, if you're an expert, by definition you know what the best course of action is. It can also be exceedingly difficult for an acknowledged expert to extract him or herself from the details of the work to assume the critical "big picture" perspective referred to above.

Foundations are not universities or think tanks. They may manifest aspects of those institutions, but they have a unique opportunity — even an obligation — to not just follow the advice of academic experts but to look at problems in different ways, bring unexpected perspectives to bear, and craft strategies that move society forward. It's a unique space in the spectrum of organizations, and it takes a relentless curiosity and willingness to consider alternative solutions to use that privilege to full advantage. It may strike some as "old school," but a CEO whose greatest gift is a full appreciation of the potential of philanthropy may be a better fit to lead such an enterprise.

The CEO as Program Officer

It's tempting for a foundation CEO to want to also function as a kind of "uber" program officer. Having a "discretionary" grants budget at his/her disposal is a first step in that direction. It's quite common in the foundation world for a CEO to have a private pot of money from which s/he make grants at his/her discretion. When those funds are used for "corporate giving," in the sense of joining other foundation CEOs in making expected — and relatively modest — contributions to organizations or special events that support the field (e.g., to underwrite a conference), that's one thing. But it can be a slippery slope and quickly lead to more substantial resources being directed to a CEO's personal priorities, as opposed to those of the institution.

When a CEO is unable to resist being a grantmaker, it sets up several potentially unhealthy dynamics for a foundation. Grantseekers who enjoy a personal connection to the CEO quickly learn that they can sidestep the foundation's announced priorities and procedures and directly approach the CEO for support. And when they're successful, it not only sends a message to others in the community but also to those within the organization. Board members can begin to feel that it's appropriate for them to leverage their personal access to the CEO to secure funding for their own priorities, while grantmaking staff can be put in an uncomfortable, even untenable position.

A foundation may pride itself on the use of objective research and analysis in establishing its grantmaking priorities and making individual grant decisions. But when the CEO is playing by a different set of rules, it sends the wrong signal to staff about the integrity of the organization's processes and sets up an unfair competition for scarce resources. And when a CEO's personal priorities begin to consume a greater share of the foundation's grantmaking dollars, things can go sideways. Staff can be put in the position of not knowing what to anticipate. They may also have to "front" for those CEO decisions with the public while trying to keep to established procedures. Needless to say, it's not a pleasant position to find oneself in.

The CEO as Brand Icon

We live in an era where foundation boards are not just satisfied to support good work; they want to be publicly recognized for that work. As a result, the foundation world has embraced the kind of brand consciousness that was previously the purview of corporations, celebrities, and politicians. Corporate communications strategies that focus on grantee accomplishments without spotlighting the special contributions of the foundation (and its dynamic leader) are now passé.

When a foundation styles itself as a changemaker rather than as a grantmaker, the "brand promise" entails a different interpretation of the CEO role and a new set of criteria for hiring one. If a key component of a CEO's performance is to maintain a high public profile for the foundation, there is a real danger that philanthropic resources will be used to promote image and style at the expense of substance.

There's also a danger that a CEO's enthusiastic promotion of a personal brand can come to compete with the foundation's institutional brand. Some boards may not mind, but we are of the view that the foundation's mission and values, rather than any single person, should be the ultimate driver of its brand.

Securing and promoting a "name brand" CEO may be an accepted business strategy in our celebrity-obsessed culture, but the benefit to a philanthropic foundation is difficult to gauge. Indeed, as more foundations are coming to the realization that collaboration and funding partnerships are essential in addressing complex problems, a preoccupation with brand enhancement can most assuredly get in the way of genuinely collective ventures. Indeed, there is little incentive for a foundation to publicly admit to failure when it is focused on burnishing its brand as a pathfinding innovator. Foundations should think twice before heading down that path.

Headshot_julia_lopez_tom_david_compJulia Lopez is the former president and CEO of the College Futures Foundation (2008-17) and a former senior vice president at the Rockefeller Foundation, where she provided oversight, management, and evaluation of the foundation's strategic program grantmaking. She has also served in roles in the California State Legislature, the New Mexico Department of Criminal Justice, and the San Francisco Department of Social Services and currently serves on the board of public radio station KQED in San Francisco. 

Tom David advises foundations and other public benefit organizations on matters of strategy, organizational learning, and evaluation. Until July 2004, he was director of organizational learning and evaluation at the Marguerite Casey Foundation in Seattle and, prior to that, served as executive vice president of the California Wellness Foundation, vice president of the S.H. Cowell Foundation, and senior program officer at the James Irvine Foundation. David (http://www.tdavid.net/) was the recipient of the 2002 Terrence Keenan Leadership Award in Health Philanthropy from Grantmakers in Health

5 Questions for…Lori Bezahler, President, Edward W. Hazen Foundation

In 2000, Lori Bezahler was young, idealistic and running the Education and Youth Services division of a large nonprofit in New York. She came across an ad that piqued her interest: Public Education Program Officer Edward W. Hazen Foundation. Bezahler was intrigued by the foundation’s idea that organizing could be used as a tool to change the conditions that adversely affect people’s lives, with a focus on communities of color and in the area of education. So she applied for and got the job. A few years later, in 2004, Barbara Taveras, the foundation's then-president, decided to step down. The foundation's board conducted a search for Taveras's replacement and chose Bezahler.

In the decade and a half since, Bezahler and the Hazen Foundation have been in the forefront of the movement for racial justice in American society, supporting the leadership of young people and communities of color in dismantling structural inequity based on race and class. To accelerate that work at this critical juncture, the Hazen board announced in March that the foundation would be spending down its endowment over the next five years in support of education and youth organizing, with a focus on racial justice.

PND spoke with Bezahler shortly after the board’s announcement to learn more about how and why the decision to spend down was made, how it will be executed, and what the foundation hopes to achieve over the next five years.

Headshot_lori_bezahlerPhilanthropy News Digest: The Hazen Foundation was established in 1925, making it one of the oldest private foundations in the United States. For decades, the foundation focused its resources on "the lack of values-based and religious instruction in higher education." Then, in the 1970s, it began to focus on public education and youth develop­ment, and in the late '80s it shifted its focus to community organizing for school reform. In 2009, under your leadership, the foundation made another shift, and began to focus more explicitly on race as the basis of oppression. Can you speak, broadly, to the process and the people who’ve helped shaped the foundation’s evolution over the last ninety-plus years?

Lori Bezahler: I'm glad you brought up the foundation's establishment, because I think Edward and Helen Hazen, the couple who created it, were really interesting people. They were childless themselves and were involved, during their lifetimes, in a number of char­ities that focused on young people. A lot of that work influenced the founding docu­ments of the foundation and its approach from the beginning, especially the importance of thinking about young people in terms of their whole selves, thinking about character development, about the way each of us incorporates our values and our beliefs into our lives. That's been a common thread through all the years and decades of the foundation's work. And over that span of time, a couple of people have been especially important in shaping the institu­tion that is Hazen today.

The first is Paul Ylvisaker, who was well known for the urban planning and anti-poverty work he did for the Johnson administration in the 1960s and later at the Ford Foundation, before becoming a dean at Harvard. He also was a trustee of the Hazen Foundation. From what I've read of our history and in board minutes and things like that he was influential in a number of ways. One was thinking about policies and their impact in broad structural terms. The other was the decision to recommend bringing Jean Fairfax, who just passed away at the age of 98, onto the board. At the time, Jean was a young African-American woman and lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and as far as we can tell from our research, she was the first African-American woman to be appointed to the board of a national foundation. In that role, she was instrumental in bringing attention to issues of race and representation by demanding that prospective grantees of the foundation share information about the demographics of their leadership, the nature of the community they served, and whether leadership was representative of that community. Jean was instrumental in moving the foundation's board to think more intentionally about where we, as an institution, put our dollars and the importance of self-determination.

There were others who followed in her footsteps. Sharon King led the foundation for a few years in the late 1980s, and it was under her leadership that the foundation began its work in the field of community organizing, or, as Sharon used to say, with organizations that had their feet in the community, that were grounded and embedded in the com­munity and not parachuting in, and that had leadership that was representative of the community.

After Sharon left, Barbara Taveras took over as president and really built out the foundation's understanding of organizing. She was very thoughtful in considering how a foundation could and should relate to the field through partnering, listening, and acting in a learning mode, rather than a prescriptive mode.

There were also a number of people who helped move the foundation in the direction of having an explicit focus on race. The person I would call out especially in that respect is Daniel HoSang, who was appointed to the board when he was at the Center for Third World Organizing and today is an associate professor of American studies and ethnic studies at Yale. Dan was a member of the board for ten years and really championed the idea that the foundation should specify race as a focus and think about it structurally rather than individually. He was crucial in that regard.

PND: Your board recently announced that the foundation was going to spend out its endowment over the next five years. How did that decision come about?

LB: The impetus to consider a dramatic change in how the foundation does business came about as the result of a sort of fundamental questioning of the foundation's role in a time that presents us all with great challenges but also great opportunities. It's a moment that is lifting up the potential and possibilities for the very work the Hazen Foundation has spent so many years doing. The relationships we've created, in the fields of youth organizing, racial and education justice; the way we've been able to bring that kind of work into the broader philanthropic conversation and raise it up to some of our peers and partners — all that figured into it.

And all those different factors caused us to pause and say, Are we stepping up? Are we doing everything we can be doing? Clearly, there are assumptions around perpetuity in philan­thropy, and they're based on some good thinking. I'm not saying that perpetuity is ridiculous — it's not. If you look at the numbers, you actually spend more over time, it gives you the opportunity to build something and be there for the long haul.

But there are moments when it's not enough, when the damage done by misguided policies or irresponsible leadership in the short-term will have ripple effects across time that demand you think differently about how you use your resources. And when, on top of that, there's an established body of work that you can build on to do something meaningful by concentrating your resources — well then you don't really have a choice.

That was the question we asked ourselves, and the process to get to the announcement took nearly two years. We did a lot of research, everything from literature scans to interviews to surveys. We talked to lots of people in the field, including our grantees and partners. We talked to people who had served in leadership roles in other spend-down institutions and asked them what worked and what didn't work, what were the pros and what were the cons. We looked at other options besides spending down. And we did a lot of financial modeling. I mean, we conducted an enormous amount of research, because I think the board felt very strongly that if we were going to do this, if we were going to turn out the lights on this institution and the work we have been supporting over many decades, it's got to be done in a way that is meaningful. The approach was deliberate and rational, but we also did a lot of soul searching about what it all meant and whether we were doing everything possible to fulfill the mission of the institution or whether there was something different we needed to do.

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Notre-Dame de Paris: What Can Philanthropy Learn?

April 30, 2019

AP_France_Notre_Dame_FireLike most people who have lived or spent time in Paris, I experienced a deep sadness that quickly turned to tears, anger, and confusion as the news flashed across social media that the great cathedral of Notre-Dame was burning. The blow to French identity, and the sense of loss for all of us who hold Paris dear, was and is profound.

Within days, my despair had given way to faint hope as I read news stories detailing pledges of more than €900 million from some of France's wealthiest families toward the reconstruction of the cathedral. But that hope soon gave way to feelings of guilt. Just weeks ago, Cyclone Idai smashed into southeastern Africa, leaving more than a thousand people dead and thousands more missing in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. It was a disaster of epic proportions that went largely unreported in the Western media and generated little in the way of disaster recovery funding. While I felt frustration at the contrast between the philanthropic response to the two events, I probably wasn’t as angry as I should have been. The fact I felt conflicted about what philanthropy could and was willing to do to save Notre-Dame versus the enormous challenge of mitigating human suffering and building peaceful societies, not just in Africa but around the world, has been haunting me ever since. And the juxtaposition of the two responses underscores a complex societal problem.

People's engagement with issues tends to be driven by their values and passions. Giving is shaped by the many different and connected parts of human psychology, and Notre-Dame was a classic example of giving driven by emotion (and, in the case of certain French billionaires, a healthy dose of ego). The fire was a blow to a collective French identity rooted in a distant, romanticized past, and the immediate outpouring of support for restoring the cathedral to its former glory was a way to stand in solidarity with that past and make oneself feel good in the bargain.

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Taxes, Inequality, and the Public Good

April 26, 2019

Taxes_flickrCan wealthy Americans use philanthropy to fend off Democratic proposals for progressive, much-needed tax reform? That certainly seems to be what tech billionaire Michael Dell had in mind on a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos a few months ago. Confronted with the idea that the United States should adopt a 70 percent marginal tax rate on annual incomes of over $10 million — something it last saw in the 1960s under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations — Dell said he would be "much more comfortable" giving back to society through his private foundation "than giving…to the government." Other superrich donors have expressed similar feelings, with some actually having the chutzpah to equate the civic obligation of paying taxes with charity.

It's evident to anyone paying attention that private philanthropy can never replace the almost three trillion in budget cuts included in the Trump administration's 2020 budget or the trillions in deficits that the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act is likely to create over the next decade.

Trump, Michael Dell, and other members of the 1 percent club — who now control as much wealth as the bottom 95 percent of Americans — are going to need a better argument if they hope to convince the large majority (70 percent) of registered voters who believe that the superrich should be paying higher marginal rates.

And the very rich will need more than a preference for philanthropy over taxes to convince the 61 percent of Americans who favor a "wealth tax" of 2 percent on those with more than $50 million in assets and 1 percent on top of that for those with more than $1 billion. To the consternation of Dell, the 25th richest man in the world, an even larger percentage of Americans believe that government should pursue policies designed to reduce the huge and growing wealth gap in America — policies that go beyond just raising tax revenue.

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